From the Publisher
PRAISE FOR STEPHEN FREY
“A great read all the way. Wall Street’s dark side is brilliantly portrayed by Stephen Frey. This is a high-stakes power play at its most ferocious level. Read it!”
–DONALD J. TRUMP
“Action-packed . . . Bookkeeping chicanery, insider trading, and other big-business conspiracies abound.”
–The Wall Street Journal
“This is the sort of fiction that skates dangerously close to truth.”
–Los Angeles Times
“Deft suspense . . . wickedly good.”
“Fast-moving, zestful, stirring . . . full of twists and surprises . . . compelling characters.”
–Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Danger and deception dominate. . . . A worthy counterpart to Frey’s previous bestselling novels.”
–New York Daily News
“Springs plenty of surprises . . . In Silent Partner, the villains are seldom what they seem–nor are the heroes.”
In the private equity world of Stephen Frey's newest thriller, bullets are flying faster than buyout bids.
Schmooze institutional investors, harangue drag-butt executives, negotiate megabuck deals. These are the things that fill the lives of most private equity types, but not Christian Gillette's. Gillette, the new head of elite Everest Capital, spends time dodging assassins.
In Stephen Frey's new novel, The Chairman (Ballantine Books, $21.95), poor Gillette--well, not poor in the bank account sense--finds almost everybody is out to get him. His least rabid enemies merely wish to see him canned. Others want to see him dead. At his boss' funeral, somebody blows up Gillette's limo before he can get into it. Then a wildly shooting gunman traps him in a gas station restroom. Later, cruising in his Lincoln Town Car on Park Avenue, Gillette almost takes another bullet. If he's not careful, he'll end up like his boss, whose drowning wasn't an, er, accident.
The reason these antagonists want Gillette dispatched: lust for his power and treasure. As Everest's chairman, he controls 27 companies and is in the same league as Henry Kravis and Thomas Lee. In Mel Brooks' immortal words, "It's good to be the king." Part of the fun in this book is that a paranoiac existence doesn't stop Gillette from enjoying the fine life of a financier, surrounded by sumptuous luxury, brown-nosing dignitaries and libidinous women. Too bad one of these ladies comes after him with a knife.
The Chairman, Frey's tenth novel, is his best. As always, he provides twists galore, great action and crisp dialogue. But what he excels at is enriching his stories with financial lore. The most enticingsuspense tales give readers insights into a high-stakes profession, whether it's defense lawyer (John Grisham), forensic pathologist (Patricia Cornwell) or homicide detective (Michael Connelly). Financial thrillers, however, haven't enjoyed the popularity of legal, medical or cop novels. Too few writers can accurately convey the drama of markets. Who could make buying an oil company fascinating?
Frey can. With his lively writing and cynical humor, this author, a partner in a private equity firm, is a captivat-ing tour guide to a Wall Street wonderland of greed, folly and deceit whose rules seem lifted from Ambrose Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary. Here's how Frey defines "price": "Everyone has one; you just have to find it. Then be willing to pay it." We learn that you negotiate an acquisition by pretending not to want the prize very much. If selling a company, never open the bidding, as that reveals your cards. And should your high-risk deals all blow up, Frey tells us, you and your partners must "scatter for places where English is rarely spoken."
He archly conveys the addictive appeal of the dealster world by making the following observation about a suc-cessful player who, when he hits 40, decides to quit the game to spend more time with the family: "After about three months, you find they aren't really that interesting. Or, worse, they don't find you very interesting."
Gillette is Frey's first continuing hero (we're told on the dust jacket), meaning he'll be the central figure in fu-ture outings. Yet aside from his athletic abilities and financial acumen, Gillette has little in common with past protago-nists. These typically have been scrappy working class strivers pitted against the snooty Ivy Leaguers peopling the in-vestment world.
Gillette, brought up with money, is a bit of a snob himself. Right after his ascension to chairman, he haughtily corrects a friend who calls him "Chris": "Ben, from now on, call me Christian." A master manipulator who views truth as a commodity to be rationed, Gillette does one charitable deed: He moves an impoverished Latino family out of the slums and into a McMansion. But it later turns out that he exacts a price:He uses the family as his private goon squad to rough up his foes.
Why should we root for such an unsporting fellow? Because in the end he does well by the few good folks left. And because, like Ian Fleming's antihero, James Bond (the mean-spirited book version, not the amusing movie one), Gillette engages us with his enviable panache and awesome courage. Gillette's hobby is to visit pool halls solo in dan-gerous neighborhoods and, with no cash in his pocket, challenge desperados to big-dollar games. He wins every time.
… if you have a grudge against Wall Street, you could find yourself smiling contentedly as all those financial wizards so deservedly bite the dust.
The Washington Post
Diminished by dull prose, but distinguished by colorful, well-drawn characters and an arresting, labyrinthine plot, this 10th novel by Frey (after Silent Partner) illuminates the machinations of big business and high finance. Frey introduces Christian Gillette, who will be a continuing character in this inaugural volume of a projected series. As 36-year-old Gillette walks out of a Park Avenue church after delivering the eulogy following the suspicious accidental drowning of the late chairman of Everest Capital, he is nearly killed when a firebomb obliterates his waiting limo. Undaunted, newly elected chairman Gillette steps into another car and carries on with his planning: he's determined to make the company's new equity fund, Everest Eight, the biggest in the history of private equity and to eliminate his competition within the firm. Corporate chicanery, boardroom sex and backstabbing abound, and conspiracies proliferate, as Gillette enters into a deal with the chief of a mega-insurance company to increase Everest Eight's capital to $15 billion in a bold attempt to surpass rival Paul Strazzi at Apex Equity and become the nation's dominant private equity firm. Sadly, a perfunctory denouement does no justice to the clever plot. Agent, Cynthia Manson. (Mar. 29) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Yet another threatened CEO-this time young Christian Gillette, who gets his first hint of trouble when his car erupts in flames. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Whatcha gonna do when you come out of church, having just eulogized your late boss at his funeral, and your limousine blows up in your face? And it's only page three of a novel you're Chairman of? Well, what you'll know is that you're being kicked about as hero of a Frey (Shadow Account, 2003) megabillions-melodrama spilling with slimy financial hocus-pocus. But how can a thriller find climactic TNT for its plot if it sets off dynamite in Scene One? Christian Gillette-36 and greedier than Wall Street's Gordon Gekko-has just replaced murdered Bill Donovan as chairman of the gigantic private equity company Everest Capital. That's Everest, as in highest mountain, which Everest plans to become the equivalent of in confidential high-risk capital investment. For readers, icy Gillette is a tough sell. Bill Donovan used to log in 80-hour weeks with no vacations, and now even Gillette's two girlfriends of the past ten years drop him for lack of quality companionship time. The plot turns on the fact that three other top men in Everest-Ben Cohen, Troy Mason and Nigel Faraday-might have been voted in as chairman, and one may have turned dirty. Still, we might find Donovan's widow, with her fabulous inheritance, available for top slot as villain. Could she-or someone-be making a deal with the rival Strazzi company? But Troy Mason's clean-because Gillette fires him on the spot when he sees him having carnal relations with Kathy Hays in the cellar during the funeral reception at Donovan's house. Everest owns its private surveillance and security company, McGuire and Company, which may have become greedy itself. And what of the Canadian oil reserves that Everest dickers over? Is that deal going south?Hey, even Gillette's not bulletproof. It may not be TNT, but Frey does provide a spectacular twist at the end. Between murderous power shifts, the novel's repeated operative phrase is How does it work?-followed by endless financial analyis and talk, talk, talk.. . .
Read an Excerpt
The chairman of a large private equity firm is the ultimate decision maker. Which companies to buy. How many billions to pay. Who to hire as CEO. How many millions to pay.
If his judgment is flawed, the chairman loses everything. Maybe even his freedom. But if he negotiates the lies, lawsuits, and vendettas that haunt his world, he becomes one of the richest and most powerful men on earth.
Christian Gillette gazed out from the pulpit at a grim-faced congregation, then down on an open coffin—and Bill Donovan’s face. Until two days ago, Donovan had been the chairman.
Gillette was just thirty-six, but suddenly that enormous responsibility had been thrust upon him, the decision to promote him made by a razor-thin majority of Everest Capital investors late yesterday at the climax of an emotionally charged meeting held in a conference room overlooking Wall Street. The controversial vote had come within three days of Donovan’s death—as stipulated in the partnership’s operating agreement.
“The world has lost a great man,” Gillette declared, ending his brief eulogy. Donovan wouldn’t have wanted something long and drawn out. He’d been obsessive about efficiency—and the lesson had been learned.
As Gillette stepped down from the pulpit, he heard the muffled sobs of family, the stony silence of enemies. Donovan had touched many lives for better and worse. It was the inevitable consequence of being chairman.
“I’m sorry for your loss, Ann,” Gillette said quietly, getting down on one knee before the veiled widow in the front pew. “We all admired Bill very much.”
“Thank you,” she whispered.
Gillette rose and moved deliberately up the cathedral’s center aisle, pausing to acknowledge high-profile guests: George Stockman, U.S. senator from New York; Richard Harris, CEO of U.S. Petroleum; Jeremy Cole, quarterback of the New York Giants; Miles Whitman, chief investment officer of North America Guaranty & Life; Thomas Warfield, president of J.P. Morgan Chase. Each one standing up well before Gillette reached him. Pledging their loyalty and assistance in low voices after taking one of his hands in both of theirs. Each with a different agenda, but all focused on one thing: Gillette’s sudden control of billions.
Gillette gave them a subtle nod in return, studying their expressions with his piercing gray eyes. Gauging their sincerity. For the first time truly experiencing the power he now wielded. The three men who until yesterday had been his equals—Troy Mason, Ben Cohen, and Nigel Faraday—trailing him at a respectful distance as he worked his way up the maroon carpet. Not until Gillette had made it to the back of the church did the congregation begin filing out.
Dark clouds hung low over New York City and raw November gusts whipped trash and newspapers down Park Avenue as Gillette moved through the church’s arched double doorway. It had been a warm autumn—until the day of Donovan’s death.
Gillette paused at the top of the marble steps leading to the sidewalk, taking in the scents of wood smoke and caramel wafting from a street vendor’s cart. Taking in the moment. He’d dedicated the last ten years of his life to Everest—the powerful Manhattan-based private equity firm Donovan had founded two decades ago with just $25 million of limited partner commitments. Typically logging eighty hours a week for the firm. Rarely taking a vacation day. Suddenly, that sacrifice had paid the ultimate dividend.
A pretty blond woman walking past the church flashed Gillette a coy smile. He watched her move down the sidewalk, looking away when she glanced at him again over her shoulder. He’d been seriously involved with just two women during the last ten years, both of whom had left after only a few months when they realized they’d always come in second to Everest. The lack of companionship only made his desire that much stronger.
As the woman neared the limousine waiting to take him to the cemetery, Gillette allowed himself a final glimpse.
“Come on, Chris,” Cohen urged, clasping Gillette’s elbow and pulling him down the stairs. “You don’t have time for eye candy right now. We’ve got to get you to the cemetery.”
Until yesterday, Cohen and Gillette had been equals. Together with Mason and Faraday, they’d formed the managing partner team supporting Donovan. But now he’d risen above them. Now he had absolute power. There would be jealousy, maybe worse.
“Take your hand off me,” Gillette ordered. “And, Ben, from now on call me Christian.” He watched Cohen’s demeanor chill, but he didn’t care. He was going to establish dominance quickly. “Understand?”
“Is that a sine qua non?” Cohen asked solemnly.
Gillette’s right hand contracted slowly into a fist. He hated Cohen’s habit of using Latin. “Dead languages don’t impress me.” He’d been waiting a long time to say that.
Cohen’s lower lip quivered ever so slightly. “So it starts already?”
“Do you understand?”
“Yes.” Cohen hesitated. “Christian.”
As they reached the bottom step, a heavyset chauffeur emerged from the limousine and lumbered toward the back. The instant the chauffeur lifted the passenger door handle, the limousine exploded in a brilliant flash of white and yellow light, killing him and the blond woman walking past. The massive concussion spewed jagged metal fragments hundreds of feet in all directions.
Gillette brought his arms to his face but he was a fraction of a second too late.