The Trustby Norb Vonnegut
"Mr. Vonnegut dreams up diabolically elegant business crimes, then sends smart-talking characters to follow the money. He draws upon his own Wall Street experience (with Morgan Stanley, among other employers) to provide the sound of insider acumen.... There's enough novelty to this plot to set "The Trust" apart from garden-variety business thrillers, the ones in
"Mr. Vonnegut dreams up diabolically elegant business crimes, then sends smart-talking characters to follow the money. He draws upon his own Wall Street experience (with Morgan Stanley, among other employers) to provide the sound of insider acumen.... There's enough novelty to this plot to set "The Trust" apart from garden-variety business thrillers, the ones in which Bernard Madoff stand-ins run Ponzi schemes. Anyway, Mr. Vonnegut is just getting started." -The New York Times
Norb Vonnegut lends his unique insider's perspective and his darkly humorous writing to a fast-talking suspense thriller that takes readers inside the high-rolling world of global finance.
One sultry morning in Charleston, South Carolina, real estate magnate Palmer Kincaid's body washes ashore, the apparent victim of accidental drowning. Palmer's daughter calls Grove O'Rourke, stockbroker and hero of Top Producer, for help getting her family's affairs in order. Palmer was Grove's mentor and client, the guy who opened doors to a world beyond Charleston. Grove steps in as the interim head of the Palmetto Foundation, an organization Palmer created to encourage philanthropy.
Community foundations, like the Palmetto Foundation, are conduits. Philanthropists gift money to them and propose the ultimate beneficiaries. But in exchange for miscellaneous benefits-anonymity, investment services, and favorable tax treatment-donors lose absolute control. Once funds arrive, community foundations can do whatever they decide.
For years Palmer showed great sensitivity to his donors, honoring their wishes to funnel funds into the charities of their choice-his unspoken pledge-and it was this largesse which made him a respected pillar of the Charleston community. But after Grove authorizes a $25 million transfer requested by a priest from the Catholic Fund, he discovers something is terribly wrong. He gets a call from Biscuit Hughes, a lawyer representing the people of Fayetteville, North Carolina, against a new sex superstore in their town. Biscuit has traced the store's funding to a most unlikely source: the Catholic Fund.
Together, Grove and Biscuit launch an investigation into the fund, but the deeper they dig, the more evidence they find that the fund's money isn't being used to support the impoverished-it's going somewhere much more sinister. When someone close to him disappears and the FBI starts breathing down his neck, Grove knows he has to figure out who's pulling all the strings before the shadowy figure who will stop at nothing to keep the fund a secret gets to him.
“Mr. Vonnegut dreams up diabolically elegant business crimes, then sends smart-talking characters to follow the money. He draws upon his own Wall Street experience (with Morgan Stanley, among other employers) to provide the sound of insider acumen.... There's enough novelty to this plot to set "The Trust" apart from garden-variety business thrillers, the ones in which Bernard Madoff stand-ins run Ponzi schemes. Anyway, Mr. Vonnegut is just getting started.” The New York Times
“A terrific summer read.” Forbes.com
“A fast and furious novel from Vonnegut (The Gods of Greenwich, 2011, etc.) and a guaranteed good time.” Kirkus
“The Trust is a fast, fun, totally engrossing thriller that hooked me on page one and never let go. Vonnegut knows the financial world inside and out, and his expertise raises this excellent story to the highest level. The Trust is a winner from start to finish. I loved it.” Christopher Reich, New York Times bestselling author of Rules of Betrayal
“The Trust is great fun. Reels you in fast ... then goes like lightning.” Stephen Frey, New York Times bestselling author of Heaven's Fury
“Norb Vonnegut is the Nelson DeMille of finance thrillers. Travelling with his characters and getting the inside skinny on the brokerage business is a must for all fiction lovers!” Alexandra Lebenthal, author of The Recessionistas
“Norb Vonnegut offers a gleeful peek at the world of hedge fund moguls in The Gods of Greenwich, a funny, savvy book that can be as absurd as its title.” The New York Times on The Gods of Greenwich
“The black comedy of life in the fast lanes of high level finance powers a wonderful new thriller by Norb Vonnegut, The Gods of Greenwich, set in the poshest reaches of Connecticut and Manhattan... the secret of how Cy "hedges" is the Gods of Greenwich plot equivalent of what the callow young lawyer in The Firm found out about his too-good-to-be-true Memphis law office -- and Vonnegut ratchets up the suspense and the laughs as we are taken deep into "Hedgistan" (i.e. Greenwich).” The Connecticut Post on The Gods of Greenwich
“The pieces of this plot mesh as smoothly as a well executed trade.” Bloomberg News on The Gods of Greenwich
“If anybody can turn international finance and hedge funds into a riveting thriller, it's Norb Vonnegut. The Gods of Greenwich is a pure delight, racing relentlessly from the bedrooms of Manhattan to the boardrooms of Connecticut to the banks of Iceland. Bravo!” Jeffery Deaver, New York Times bestselling author of Edge on The Gods of Greenwich
“Norb Vonnegut offers you a witty, keenly-observed peek into the sometimes-lethal world of very high-stakes gambling politely known as "investing," and into the rare types who play the game. The Gods of Greenwich is compelling, suspenseful, high-energy, a terrific read!” Thomas B. Sawyer, best-selling author of No Place to Run, Head Writer of Murder, She Wrote on The Gods of Greenwich
“Norb Vonnegut's The Gods of Greenwich might very well be a harbinger of a new thriller sub-genre: the Financial Thriller. Not only does Vonnegut tell a ripping good yarn, but he makes sense out of the confusing world of hedge funds, stocks, CDOs, and derivatives, and manages to entertain at the same time!” Raymond Benson, author of several James Bond novels and co-author of Homefront--The Voice of Freedom on The Gods of Greenwich
“Vonnegut writes richly and wonderfully, every page sparking with inventiveness and wit. This is way, way beyond just being a fast-paced financial thriller. I've not read such a rich portrayal of downfall through hubris since Tom Wolfe's Bonfire Of The Vanities.” Peter James, internationally bestselling author of Dead Like You on The Gods of Greenwich
“Vonnegut follows his debut, Top Producer, with another invigorating dip into the shark pool of Wall Street's hedge fund industry... Vonnegut, a financial professional himself, not only gets the language and tone of Wall Street right but has an instinctive feel for dialogue and action. Especially enjoyable is the rip-roaring finale at the Bronx Zoo.” Publishers Weekly on The Gods of Greenwich
“The Gods of Greenwich is a fast-paced and satisfying locomotive of a financial-based thriller, Dominick Dunne meet Barbarians at the Gate. Vonnegut has opened the vaults of Greenwich's elite, and oh what secrets and schemes pour out!” Andrew Gross, #1 bestselling James Patterson co-author on The Gods of Greenwich
“On the money! This wickedly revealing and terrifyingly authentic financial thriller is clever, timely, and filled with enough insider info to send the feds to your door. Scheming, backstabbing and international intrigue--propelled by Vonnegut's trademark wit and page-turning plot. Bottom line? Terrific.” Hank Phillippi Ryan--Anthony, Macavity and Agatha winning author of Drive Time on The Gods of Greenwich
“Things go from grim to worse for rising hedge-fund star Jimmy Cusack when his company collapses and the fund that recruits him is targeted for destruction by cutthroat bankers in Iceland and a sheikh in Qatar.... The novel moves at... a fast clip, spilling goods on recession-era wheelers and dealers as it goes.” Kirkus on The Gods of Greenwich
“Vonnegut follows up his debut (Top Producer) with a first-rate thriller set in the world of hedge fund managers during the 2008 financial meltdown.... Vonnegut's skill at creating characters at risk will make even less wealthy readers root for Cusack to survive his financial debacle with millions intact. This thriller will appeal to fans of Joseph Finder and might serve as a cautionary tale to anyone who envies the seemingly idyllic life of the superrich. But don't we all like to read about them?” Library Journal on The Gods of Greenwich
“The Gods of Greenwich is better than most financial thrillers... a page-turner plot. (Serial murders plus the Great Crash of 2008.)... The cast is an unusually motley and enjoyable crew.” The New York Journal of Books on The Gods of Greenwich
“Norb Vonnegut, who has made a career out of wealth management, pulls off a compelling thriller that centers on the murder of hedge-fund schemer Charlie Kelemen: He's tossed into a public aquarium and munched by sharks…This novel ponders the age-old ramifications of greed, but Vonnegut gives it a fresh, timely twist.” USA Today on Top Producer
“Vonnegut's debut meets the gold standard for financial thrillers as it puts the frenzied, cutthroat world of Wall Street's best stockbrokers on brilliant display.” Publishers Weekly (starred review) on Top Producer
“Norb Vonnegut makes a sterling debut in Top Producer, a financial thriller extraordinaire that reads like a 2009 version of Tom Wolfe s brilliant Bonfire of the Vanities for a world that has lost its taste for Wall Street excesses....A former wealth manager himself, Vonnegut paints a vivid picture of life lived between million-dollar trades. But he also writes with an aplomb that makes Top Producer a literary reimagining of the film Wall Street where murder, as well as money, never sleeps.” Providence Journal-Bulletin (Rhode Island) on Top Producer
“The story mirrors reality in ways that may now surprise even its author, who finished the book before the economic meltdown. The two decades Vonnegut spent as a wealth advisor are evident in the venom he brings to descriptions…and in his grasp of the cutthroat world of finance.” SmartMoney.com, chosen one of SmartMoney’s 7 Smart Books for Fall on Top Producer
“Shockingly accurate.” Bloomberg on the Economy on Top Producer
“Though it's hard these days to feel sympathy for investment bankers and stockbrokers, Vonnegut makes his irreverent protagonist someone we can root for as he pursues crooks who use the redemptive language of hedge funds to hide financial malfeasance. A promising debut.” Library Journal on Top Producer
“A smartly constructed tale with an appealing lead.” Booklist on Top Producer
“Norb Vonnegut's Top Producer begins where Liar's Poker and The Bonfire of the Vanities left off and puts an electrifying spin on the winner-take-all culture of Wall Street. Turn to the first page and plunge into the shark-infested waters of high finance and greed.” Brent Ghelfi, ITW Award-nominated author of Volk's Game and The Venona Cable on Top Producer
“A timely read as Vonnegut opens the kimono exposing the intricate cause and effect of finance and murder. He shares his well-earned insights and literary acumen in a manner that entices the reader to reach out for the next chapter. A must for all investors wishing to avoid the next Bernie Madoff!” Joe Grano, Former CEO UBS/PaineWebber on Top Producer
“For those who have worked on Wall Street or those who have an interest in 'the business', Top Producer captures the true essence of the people, the pace, and the pulse as well as any novel written in a long time. A must read!!” Larry Doyle, Sense on Cents on Top Producer
“[Vonnegut] knows what he's talking about.” John Searles, book editor at Cosmopolitan, speaking on the Today Show on Top Producer
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Read an Excerpt
In my business, nothing good happens on Friday afternoon.
I’ve been at the game ten years. I know better than to hang around before the weekend starts. But there it was, nine minutes to the closing bell. Friday afternoon. Tangled in the stretch cord of my headset, I wasn’t going anywhere. Not anytime soon.
Elbows on knees and hands cupped over headphones, I perched on the lip of my swivel chair and gazed down at a stain on the carpeting. At this level, I could smell the trace odors from chemicals. Cleaning solvents had washed out the steel-blue fibers but not the soy sauce. Go figure.
Every so often, I glanced sideways. To my right, Cleopatra legs were going toe to toe with a pair of pin-striped pants. And I wondered who would kick the other one’s shins first.
If your head is under the desktop, as mine was, chances are somebody will ask if there’s a problem. He might even call the paramedics. That’s assuming you work in a reasonable profession like food services or publishing. Or you live in a reasonable place like Wichita, San Diego, maybe even Des Moines.
But if you’re a stockbroker in midtown Manhattan, nobody notices when you crouch under your desk. That’s our cone of silence, our ad hoc refuge when we’re on the phone and it’s impossible to hear because the bonehead three desks over is screaming, “I just bagged an elephant!”
Some people hear “The Call of the Wild,” and their thoughts turn to the Jack London novel.
I associate that title with stockbrokers. We fight and yap all day. We mark our territories. And you can take it from me. We’ve forgotten more about pack behavior than London’s sled dogs will ever know.
My name is Grove O’Rourke. I work at Sachs, Kidder, and Carnegie, or SKC for short. We’re a white-shoe investment bank, a place where the elite go for smart ideas and kid-glove service. From the outside, all you see are bright people and lots of panache.
Inside, it’s a different story. We could be Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, or any of the wirehouses. Backstabbing. Rival coalitions. There’s nothing pretty about slimeballs. Internecine warfare is the same in every firm.
So are the office layouts. Stockbrokers get crammed into tight spaces. No surprise given the staggering cost of office space across Manhattan. At SKC, there are 150 of us arranged in neat rows of high-tech workstations.
We make a ferocious racket: buying, selling, and nagging clients to shit or get off the pot. Throw in a dozen televisions tuned to CNBC or Fox Business, and the noise is more jarring than silverware in a garbage disposal. Our place is a nuthouse.
But stockbrokers, I mean the ones who succeed in our produce-or-perish business, get used to commotion. That includes military brats like me. Long ago I stopped asking, How’d I get here? I discarded my old notions about order, because survivors are the ones who adjust to chaos.
Take the phones. There are time-honored techniques for working them. Outgoing calls are easy. We grab mobiles and disappear into empty conference rooms for sensitive or personal topics. No noise. No prying ears. No big deal.
Incoming calls require finesse. Our quarters are so tight that everybody eavesdrops, whether intentional or otherwise. That’s why we talk to our wives and girlfriends, anybody phoning with a prickly issue, from down below. There’s no telling when loose lips will bite our sorry asses. Most days, crouching under a desk is business as usual on Wall Street.
That Friday afternoon the noise was deafening, over the top. I was on the phone with a client, not just any client, but Palmer Kincaid. I couldn’t hear myself think.
Scully, the world’s loudest stockbroker, was screaming all hoarse and bulgy-eyed at Patty Gershon, who holds her own in these ax fights. To be fair, Patty isn’t a screamer. Not usually. Guile is her thing, the closest you’ll ever come to meeting a tarantula in high heels.
The decibels had taken over, though. Every broker and sales assistant in the room gawked as the argument mushroomed louder and more fierce.
Scully: “Stay away from my client.”
Gershon: “Lowell asked me to mop up your mess.”
Back and forth, the two cursed. And I couldn’t hear Palmer, my client and mentor, the guy who got me into Harvard. He’d opened all the doors. He was the bigger-than-life presence, the shrewd coach riding a winning streak that would never end. At least, that’s what I’d always thought.
“I need your help.” He sounded shaky. There was none of Palmer’s trademark swagger. He had gone off his game, tentative and distracted.
The Palmer I knew was silky and genteel one minute, an invincible, maybe even ruthless, negotiator the next. He was the classic Charleston businessman, all charm and orthodontist smile, kicking the dirt, playing the small-town card, and taking the center cut from every deal.
Don’t get me wrong. Palmer was fair. He was honest. He had allies out the yingyang, and I was one of them. But let’s put it out there. Real estate developers don’t make $200 million playing Good Samaritan.
Palmer was unflappable. For twenty years, I had admired his grace under fire. All hell could be breaking loose, and he’d invite you into his office and chat about the family. He was never in a hurry.
Not today. Those four words, “I need your help,” sounded like Greek coming from his lips.
“Name it.” I was worried about my friend. I wished Scully and Gershon would shut the fuck up.
Palmer did not reply. Not at first. The seconds ticked by. The silence became awkward. When he finally spoke, I expected some kind of explanation for his change in behavior.
“Damn, Grove! What’s going on there?” Apparently, the noise was getting him too.
“Hang on thirty seconds, okay?”
I put Palmer on hold and stormed toward Scully. His face burned redder than a watermelon. His neck veins bugged out, fat and puffy like thick blue garden hoses.
He stopped shouting at Gershon, who took a time-out herself. The two stared at me, openmouthed at my intensity. So did the 147 other brokers and eighty-some-odd sales assistants scattered across the floor. Suddenly there was absolute silence, the calm before the storm.
Look, I’m not especially big. About six feet tall, and my girlfriend says, “Grove, you could use ten pounds.” You see me and think Lance Armstrong with ginger hair. It’s not my size that works in these situations, maybe not even what I say.
It’s attitude. When I hit my limit, I morph into a human wrecking ball. I become ruthless, brash, capable of flattening anyone who gets in the way. My Southern manners go AWOL. I have a temper.
“What do you want?” Scully boomed, more bravado than brains, surprised anybody would intrude on his two-person hissy fit. He glanced away, a fleeting nervous flicker, and it was game over. I had him.
Patty said nothing, which is typical. She’s more cunning.
Slowly, deliberately, I leaned over and squeezed Scully’s shoulder hard enough to make a point. I whispered into his ear, soft enough so nobody else could hear. Not even Gershon. I spoke without venom because conviction is ten times more effective.
Scully’s eyes dilated, saucer wide and jittery. The world’s loudest stockbroker lost his voice. But his face quivered, and his brow furrowed like a scared rabbit’s. “What’d you say?”
No need to answer. I stared a hole into Scully until he dropped his eyes again. The trick in these situations is to threaten once. Act like a hair trigger, methodical, outcome certain, ready to snap any second. Repeating myself, even a simple glance at Patty, would have broken the spell.
Thirty seconds are an eternity when you’re shredding somebody’s self-confidence. It took less than twenty for Scully to cave. “Let’s grab a conference room,” he told Gershon.
She looked puzzled, waving her hands and trailing after him. “What did he say?” The two left the room, Scully in the lead, trying to regain his dignity.
“Sorry, Palmer.” I was back on the phone, sitting upright at my desk. “What’s going on?”
But the moment had passed. His head was somewhere else. “I’ll call you Monday, Grove.”
“Don’t you need my help?”
“Give me the weekend to think things over.”
“Think what over?”
“Nothing the harbor won’t fix,” he said, not all that confident but somehow easing into his steady charisma. Palmer had forgotten more about Southern charm than half of Charleston will ever know. “You still seeing Annie?”
“Whenever I can.”
“Take her out to dinner. Get to know her.”
What’s that mean?
“I’ll call you Monday,” Palmer repeated.
Then he was gone, and the biggest mistake I ever made was not hopping the next flight to Charleston.
Copyright © 2012 by Norb Vonnegut
Meet the Author
NORB VONNEGUT writes thrillers and non-fiction about Wall Street behind closed doors. He has appeared on Dylan Ratigan, Bloomberg News as well as the Laura Ingraham and Judith Regan shows. Top Producer, his debut novel, was a featured pick of Today and SmartMoney and is published in eight languages. The New York Times selected his second book, The Gods of Greenwich as a 2011 summer read.
Norb built his wealth-management career with Morgan Stanley and other Wall Street institutions. A Harvard graduate, he splits his time between New York and Rhode Island and is a trustee with the American Foundation for the Blind.
Norb Vonnegut writes thrillers and non-fiction commentary (The Huffington Post, Acrimoney) about Wall Street behind closed doors. He has appeared on Bloomberg News as well as the Laura Ingraham and Judith Regan shows. Top Producer, his debut novel, was a featured pick of Today, SmartMoney and is published in eight languages. Norb built his wealth-management career with Morgan Stanley and other Wall Street institutions. A Harvard college and Harvard Business graduate, he splits his time between New York and Rhode Island.
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A really great read, you always hope but just never know! I read this almost in one shot. A well written page turner. The humor is great, I love the characters especially “Biscuit”…. I will be reading more of Norb’s work in the future.
Details of the novel can be sought above. I give my reaction to it here: The Trust is not up to par with my expectations. It seems like a cheap version of the author's previous novel, which I liked better. The circumstances of the trust getting involved as it did are highly questionable. How stupid were these Palmetto people? But what sours me the most on the story is the FBI agent. For all the talk about brokers knowing their clients, is it at all believable that a brokerage's attorneys would all turn to mush when a single FBI agent walked in and started browbeating people? No one questions who she is, if she has the authority to do what she is doing, if her office is backing her up- they just comply. And so does everyone else she comes into contact with. Whatever she wants, they give it. No one tries to find out the scope of her investigation and how their participation plays into it...or they don't try very hard. Just mention 10 to 20 and they cave. Not believable at all. The bad guys aren't believable either, but one can argue that point more than they can the silly FBI agent. I give it three stars as it wasn't without its entertainment. It just didn't provide a solid story.