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An honest lawyer, a Czech hand model, and a box of mysterious Christmas ornaments--each plays a part in Colin Harrison's compelling new intrigue

George Young never thought of himself as a detective, but that's pretty much his vocation--an attorney at a top insurance firm, it's his job to pin down suspicious claims. But Mrs. Corbett, the rich, eccentric wife of the firm's founder, has it in mind to put ...

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Risk: A Novel

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An honest lawyer, a Czech hand model, and a box of mysterious Christmas ornaments--each plays a part in Colin Harrison's compelling new intrigue

George Young never thought of himself as a detective, but that's pretty much his vocation--an attorney at a top insurance firm, it's his job to pin down suspicious claims. But Mrs. Corbett, the rich, eccentric wife of the firm's founder, has it in mind to put George's skills to a peculiar assignment. With only a few months left to live, her one desire is to know the true circumstance of her son Roger's violent death. George's investigation leads him to Roger's mistress, a cagey Czech hand model named Eliska, who can cast a seductive spell simply by removing her gloves.

Did Eliska's motives for latching on to Roger get him killed? Or did some of her shadowy and dangerous little friends take care of the job? And why were there boxes and boxes of Christmas ornaments in the dead man's apartment? George will have to take a few chances of his own if he wants to get to the bottom of Roger's death for Mrs. Corbett.

Set against a volatile and vividly drawn Manhattan, Risk is prime Colin Harrison.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

The San Diego Union Tribune Robert Wade

Colin Harrison's urbane thriller, which tops out at 176 diverting pages, [is] long enough to satisfy, short enough not to overstay its welcome…. Harrison is a most captivating (as well as economical) writer. Set amid the turmoil of Manhattan, whose unique ambiance he captures skillfully, Harrison weaves an unpredictable tale of urban crime in which homicide and humor blend and whose worth is measured by quality not quantity.
The Washington Post Patrick Anderson

Colin Harrison writes sophisticated novels set in New York. They earn excellent reviews but aren't as well known as they should be…. Harrison views New York with a cool but compassionate eye. What distinguishes RISK is not its plot--investigation, danger, resolution--but the people, the digressions, the details along the way…. As crime fiction goes, [RISK is] a small gem.
The New York Times Book Review Amy Finnerty

[A] slim, satisfying crime novel…. [Harrison] seems to be making fun both of his own New York fetish and of detective parodies like Garrison Keillor's "Guy Noir," all the while sustaining the momentum of his story….. [a] book that will resonate with many successful urban men. The message is clear: marry wisely, then count your blessings and never leave New York.

In this latest thriller, Harrison (The Havana Room, 2004) puts the pedal to the metal and doesn't let up…. Harrison delivers a crime novel as gritty and electric as New York City itself.
The New York Times

A chilling, high-speed roller coaster of a ride that doubles as a sardonic sightseeing tour of the seamier side of New York City.
The Washington Post

Extraordinary . . . We're so in [the characters'] heads, so privy to their yearnings, their fears, that we practically become them. . . . A masterpiece.
Men's Journal

As sharp and insidery as a Tom Wolfe opus, with the giddyup pacing of an airport-rack paperback.
The Oregonian

One hell of a thriller. . . Colin Harrison's smart, jagged suspense novels are nonpareil.
Patrick Anderson
Harrison views New York with a cool but compassionate eye. What distinguishes Risk is not its plot—investigation, danger, resolution—but the people, the digressions, the details along the way…As crime fiction goes, it's a small gem.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
In Harrison's entertaining urban noir, which has been revised since the New York Times Magazine ran it as a serial, Manhattan insurance attorney George Young agrees to help Mrs. Corbett, the widow of his firm's founder, with a minor mystery. How did Corbett's son, Roger, spend his final hours before a garbage truck struck him dead? The images a security camera captured of Roger's last moments mesmerize the amateur detective. Young's investigation leads him to Eliska Sedlacek, a Czech hand model, who was Roger's mistress for the last few months of his life. Eliska is eager to get access to Roger's possessions, which his ex-wife has placed in long-term storage. Some mundane items belonging to Roger, including an old phone book bought on eBay and some Christmas ornaments, turn out to be of interest to some unsavory figures. Harrison (The Finder) telegraphs the final reveal early on, but the colorful narrative voice will leave many readers wishing for more. (Oct.)
Library Journal
George Young is your standard modern New Yorker; he's a pretty good insurance lawyer with a pretty good marriage who enjoys a glass or two of pretty good wine in the evening. When he's contacted by the elderly widow of his mentor about her son's recent death, George doesn't feel he can gracefully excuse himself. The son's career had been on a downward spiral, and, as he was emerging from a bar, he stepped off the curb and was done in by a garbage truck. Playing detective, George obsessively reviews the surveillance tape and uncovers a Czech hand model, a stash of toy soldiers, and something that passes for a long-buried truth. The story, even with its internal psychological emphasis, clips along, with searing cameos of Manhattanites; it should appeal to readers of Patrick McGrath. VERDICT Harrison's latest (following The Finder) looks at postfinancial meltdown, post-Bernie Madoff Manhattan and not surprisingly delivers a reflective, elegiac tale. Serialization in the New York Times Magazine insures there are enough cliff-hangers to hold the attention of fans as well as new readers.—Bob Lunn, Kansas City, MO
Kirkus Reviews
Harrison's fleet seventh novel, originally serialized in the New York Times Magazine, follows an insurance attorney down a trail he wishes he'd never taken. Ten weeks after her son Roger is killed, Diana Corbett, herself seriously ill, tells George Young that she needs to know more about his last hours. It isn't his death she wants George to investigate-surveillance video shows that Roger emerged from a bar at 1:30 a.m. and got hit by a garbage truck as he paused after stepping off the curb to examine a piece of paper from his pocket-but the question of what he was doing for the four hours he sat in the bar. George, who's by no means a professional detective, can't imagine why imperious Diana has chosen him for this job. But he's done a fair amount of work investigating fraudulent claims, and he's always been grateful to Diana's late husband, his firm's founder, for plucking him from obscurity. So he begins to ask questions and in short order finds some answers, though none to Diana's liking. She refuses to acknowledge that Eliska Sedlacek, the willowy Czech hand model with whom Roger spent most of his last evening and many nights before, was his girlfriend. Instead she's more interested in the call Roger made from his cell phone minutes before he died, a call that remains as much a mystery to George as the question of what was written on the vanished piece of paper that so interested Roger. Meanwhile, Eliska has developed a strong interest in a box of Christmas tree ornaments Roger's ex-wife cleaned out of his apartment after his death. George spends a great deal of time tracking down the ornaments and figuring out why Eliska cares so much about them before he confronts Roger'sdarkest secret. If this fast-paced, surprisingly reflective yarn doesn't measure up to Harrison's more ambitious thrillers (The Finder, 2007, etc.), it's well worth its price and length.
The Barnes & Noble Review
If you missed Harrison's delightful thriller when it ran as a serial in The New York Times Magazine, forget about it. This paperback edition is sharper, longer, and much more fun to read. Harrison is a master of imperfect central characters. George Young is an attorney for a top insurance firm. It's his long-running job to expose suspicious claims. But Mrs. Corbett, the rich, eccentric wife of the firm's founder, wants to put George's skills to a special, non-insurance assignment. With only a few months to live, her one desire is to know the true circumstance of her son Roger's violent death -- he was hit by a truck as he walked out of a bar. George's investigation leads him to Roger's mistress, an elusive Czech hand model named Eliska Sedlacek, whose motives for latching on to Mrs. Corbett's son may have gotten him killed.

George Young is a perfect Harrison hero. ?The work can be exciting, and a little nasty,? he says about his job. ?Which I confess is interesting.? His wife, Carol, also a lawyer, works in the compliance division of ?a huge New York bank... Being a naturally suspicious person, Carol has done well at her job.? The Youngs turn out to be a formidable pair of detectives (?Now and then I am reminded that my wife is smarter than I am. This was one of those times,? George tells us when Carol spots an important clue.) Aided by a shrewd bartender and a friendly gangster, they uncover a tangled plot involving valuable metals hidden in cheap Christmas decorations. But not even such shrewd investigators can imagine what old Mrs. Corbett is really looking for. --Dick Adler

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312428938
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 9/29/2009
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Colin Harrison

COLIN HARRISON is the author of six novels. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions
When Mrs. Corbett asks George to investigate her son's death, she already assumes that it was an accident - what she really wants to know is why Roger was standing on the particular corner where he was killed. How does her motivation set Risk apart from other mysteries? Is this a mystery without a murderer?
Why do you think Roger was drawn to Eliska, what about her entranced him (was he, in fact, entranced)? And do you think that she merely used him, or that she may have had sincere feelings?
Roger's wife, Valerie, divorces him when he is unable to get back on his feet. Is her behavior ruthless, or did Roger default on the expectations of their marriage to provide her with a prosperous life? Is she partly responsible for Roger's death?
When George is in Roger's storage unit, he finds a pair of boots that fit him perfectly, and he decides to walk off with them. Why do you think George feels entitled to the boots? Do you think that he identifies with Roger in some way, and is here beginning to sense their connection?
Money plays an important role in Risk - While George lives in pleasant middle-class security, Roger took risks and soon found himself dangerously close to the black market money that courses outside of legal systems of commerce. Discuss all of the characters' financial status, their views on money, and how money has gotten some of them into trouble.
From Eliska's hands to the Christmas ornaments to the maps, common items are imbued with uncommon worth in Risk. Discuss what exactly makes these items valuable - their history, their desirability - and the mysterious power of appraisal as it is played out in the book. Consider as well some of the fishy insurance claims that George is investigating - what does it mean to insure something that is priceless?
George briefly profits from his investigation when he sells the Christmas ornaments to a precious metals dealer, but then purges himself of the spoils. Why does George choose to do this, would you do the same? What are the risks of keeping the money?
From SoHo to Rockefeller Center to Canarsie, Risk is a virtual tour of New York City. Discuss the ways in which the city is a character in the story.
Discuss George's approach as a detective, he seems to have a very light touch. For example, he manages to hand off the ornaments and outfox the Russian mobsters with a few carefully orchestrated moves, and some lucky timing - no gunplay, no violence. In what ways are George's modest methods of handling a dangerous situation realistic? Is he perhaps easier to sympathize with than a superspy or a more hardboiled gumshoe?
At the end of Chapter 4, George's wife Carol notices on the video of Roger's death that he is about to walk toward Grand Central, but then turns around. They speculate that he was about to walk in the direction of his old life in the suburbs. The moment is haunting. How would you describe the overall tone of Risk? Does it have a certain elegiac, ruminative quality? Did you find that unusual for a mystery?
Roger, George and Mrs. Corbett each stand at the threshold between knowing and not-knowing a vital piece of information that will change their lives. Is pursing information about oneself always risky? Are we sometimes better off not knowing the full story? How would you have handled George's assignment?
How would you judge Mr. Corbett's character - surely he did not treat his wife well, but do you think he redeemed himself by supporting George from afar? Did he perhaps help George too much, was his interference not entirely a favor?
We all have an origin story - a narrative that describes where we come from - but do these sometimes mythic tales truly explain who we are? If the story changes, as it does for George, does that mean you are a different person?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 7, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    This is a terrific Manhattan Noir

    Manhattan insurance attorney George Young agrees to help Widow Mrs. Corbett because she was married to the late founder of the firm where he works; he always felt he owed the late Wilson Corbett for rescuing him back in the 1980s from the muddy Queens DA Office. Mrs. Corbett wants George to investigate the last few hours in the life of her son Roger before he was killed in a freak accident by a garbage truck.

    George starts with a security camera video that capture the final moments. Afterward, he visits Roger's mistress Czech hand model Eliska Sedlacek to see what she can tell him. Eliska makes it clear Roger had some items that she wants; Roger's former wife placed everything in storage. George is taken aback when seemingly nonentities like an old phone book bought by Roger on eBay has garnered interest by people willing to break into joints to gain possession.

    This is a terrific Manhattan Noir in which the audience knows what is happening ironically much earlier than George does; the fun is watching George change from confident successful professional lawyer to bungling unconfident amateur sleuth as he begins to put the shocking puzzle together. Filled with twists including one great spin, fans will enjoy George's efforts to learn the whole truth, nothing but the truth.

    Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 3, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A Fun Read!

    This short novel was a fun, light read. I thought it was well-written. George Young, the main character, is a lawyer who finds himself caught up in a little more danger and intrigue than he's used to. I enjoyed the dialogue and the mix of humor and mystery. I was immediately drawn in and didn't skip a word, which, to me, equals a good book!

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  • Posted November 28, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    "Great deeds are usually wrought at great risks." Heordotus

    Attorney George Young works for a New York insurance firm where his work is to analyze suspicious insurance claims.

    He's called to the home of the widow of his company's founder. Mrs. Corbett is in ill health and facing an operation. She wants George to look into what her son, Roger, was doing prior to the time he walked into the path of an oncoming truck and was killed.

    Since her husband was the one who gave George his start, he feels obligated to give this job his best effort. He learns that Roger had a girlfriend, a Czeck named Eliska Sedlacek. This woman had a relationship with a Russian man and carried items into the United States for him. The items were in the shape of ornaments and were very valuable. On the Russian's last trip, he asks Eliska to bring in a much larger quantity. She did and she hid this in Roger's apartment. We learn that the Russian man was murdered and some men have contacted Eliska and have told her that her old boyfriend took something that didn't belong to him and the men want it back.

    George continues his investigation, even though he learns that he is at some risk, himself. During the search for answers, George finds something of his own history that is significant.

    George Young is a sympathetic character. He's a nice guy who stays on the job and gets help from a wife that loves him and is loved by George in return. I enjoyed the novel and would recommend it to others.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 11, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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