Top Producer

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Overview

TOP PRODUCERS  think three steps ahead and make snap decisions. Theirs is a blurred version of reality, one that conceals motives or rewards bold moves. All too easily, scams can be disguised as success; plotting can be mistaken for killer instincts. And it’s all fun and games—until someone gets hurt.

“The gold standard for financial thrillers.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Grove O’Rourke is one ...

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Overview

TOP PRODUCERS  think three steps ahead and make snap decisions. Theirs is a blurred version of reality, one that conceals motives or rewards bold moves. All too easily, scams can be disguised as success; plotting can be mistaken for killer instincts. And it’s all fun and games—until someone gets hurt.

“The gold standard for financial thrillers.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Grove O’Rourke is one such top producer at an elite investment firm. His job is his life. His colleagues are like family. One of them, Charlie, is legend—larger than life both in business and physique, loved by everyone. At least it seems that way, until his spectacular murder is carried out in front of hundreds of horrified party-goers…

“Shockingly accurate.”—Bloomberg on the Economy

Charlie was Grove’s best friend, and he’ll do anything to help his widow. But she appears to be hiding a dark secret… Soon, Grove stumbles upon a web of false statements and forged documents, and learns the truth about Charlie’s dealings—and those clients whose lives drastically changed the instant they signed a dishonest deal. And what he discovers is how money—vast sums of money—can bring out the best and worst in people. And sometimes even drive them to kill…

“An entertaining debut…about the cutthroat world of finance.”
SmartMoney magazine

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“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

“Vonnegut’s debut meets the gold standard for financial thrillers as it puts the frenzied, cutthroat world of Wall Street’s best stockbrokers (aka the ‘top producers’) on brilliant display. Ripples from the bizarre murder of Charlie Kelemen, wealthy hedge fund operator, quickly reach his best friend, Grove O’Rourke. A top producer at the boutique investment bank Sachs, Kidder and Carnegie, O’Rourke tries to help Kelemen’s widow sort out some financial questions. This process leads him deeper and deeper into a labyrinth of deceit. As fallout from Charlie’s death and dealings start to taint O’Rourke, the sharks, inside and outside his own firm, smell blood and begin to circle. O’Rourke won’t go down without a fight, and not all the blood in the water will be his. Vonnegut, himself a veteran fund manager, handles the arcane terminology and slang of Wall Street with aplomb, never letting it get in the way of the story.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“An entertaining debut…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 magazine  (A Smart Book “Best Of” pick)

“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

“[Vonnegut] knows what he's talking about." --John Searles, book editor at Cosmopolitan, speaking on the Today Show.

Publishers Weekly
Vonnegut’s debut meets the gold standard for financial thrillers as it puts the frenzied, cutthroat world of Wall Street’s best stockbrokers (aka the “top producers”) on brilliant display. Ripples from the bizarre murder of Charlie Kelemen, wealthy hedge fund operator, quickly reach his best friend, Grove O’Rourke. A top producer at the boutique investment bank Sachs, Kidder and Carnegie, O’Rourke tries to help Kelemen’s widow sort out some financial questions. This process leads him deeper and deeper into a labyrinth of deceit. As fallout from Charlie’s death and dealings start to taint O’Rourke, the sharks, inside and outside his own firm, smell blood and begin to circle. O’Rourke won’t go down without a fight, and not all the blood in the water will be his. Vonnegut, himself a veteran fund manager, handles the arcane terminology and slang of Wall Street with aplomb, never letting it get in the way of the story. 100,000 first printing. (Sept.)
Library Journal

In his debut, Wall Street executive Vonnegut (and yes, a distant relation to Kurt) presents Grove O'Rourke, a 32-year-old hotshot at a New York investment firm, where he manages $2 billion for his wealthy clients. When Grove witnesses the gruesome murder of his best friend and mentor, Charlie Kelemen, and learns that Charlie's wife, Sam, knows nothing about her husband's dealings and is penniless, he sets out to track down the killers and his friend's missing funds. Grove soon finds that Charlie had many secrets, some of them personally devastating. For those who have followed the demise of Madoff's Ponzi scheme, the crux of the plot will seem either old stuff or news ripped from the headlines. And, unless readers are up on zero-cost dollars, downside protection, delta hedging, prepaid forwards, and derivatives, their eyes will likely glaze over at some of the financial maneuvers. VERDICT 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 (the author has a two-book deal). [See Prepub Mystery, LJ5/1/09.]—Ron Terpening, Univ. of Arizona, Tucson


—Ron Terpening
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312388300
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 12/28/2010
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 496
  • Product dimensions: 4.20 (w) x 7.40 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Norb Vonnegut built his career on Wall Street, most recently as managing director with a wealth management boutique in New York City, and previously with Morgan Stanley, Paine Webber and Kidder, Peabody. His views about money have been showcased on Bloomberg, Laura Ingraham and the Judith Regan shows.  Top Producer, his first novel, has been published in 8 languages. A Harvard College and Harvard Business School graduate, Norb lives in New York with his family. Visit Acrimoney.com, Norb’s blog about “The Wild, Wild, World of Wealth” or NorbVonnegut.com to learn more.

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Read an Excerpt

Top Producer


By Norb Vonnegut

Minotaur Books

Copyright © 2010 Norb Vonnegut
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780312388300

Chapter One

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 wire houses. 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 nut house.

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."

F-bomb.

Gershon: "Lowell asked me to mop up your mess."

F-bomb.

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.

Until now.

"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.

Didn't happen.

"Damn, Grove! What's going on there?" Apparently, the noise was getting him too.

"Hang on thirty seconds, okay?"

"Sure, whatever."

"Thirty."

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.



Continues...

Excerpted from Top Producer by Norb Vonnegut Copyright © 2010 by Norb Vonnegut. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 15 )
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(7)

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 16 of 14 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 28, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    well written financial thriller

    The murder of wealthy hedge fund operator Charlie Kelemen has sent shock waves up and down Wall St. Especially stunned is his thirty two years old best friend Grove O'Rourke, who manages two billion dollar in accounts at Sachs, Kidder and Carnegie Investment Bank. Grove saw the homicide along with a few hundred people.

    Feeling survivor guilt and wanting to pay homage to his best friend, Grove learns that Charlie's widow Sam apparently is broke, which makes no sense since Keleman was worth a fortune. He tries to help her while avoiding the financial death by association that frequently takes down Top Producers like him. However, his efforts begin to look futile as his peers and superiors at the bank go after him with ferocity as do the outside competitors. Still Charlie refuses to walk away from the fight for survival at Sachs, Kidder and Carnegie or from learning what happened to O'Rourke's money.

    This is a well written financial thriller that digs deep into some of the voodoo fund flow of Wall St that seems relevant with all that has happened over the past few years. Overall the story line is fast-paced although the plot can slow down with the profundity of fund management as non practitioners will have to be totally focused. Still the tale is fun mostly because Grove is a likable hero swimming in toxic waters. TOP PRODUCER is an enjoyable insider thriller.

    Harriet Klausner

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 12, 2011

    Highly recommended - should be required reading

    Ever wonder what really goes on in the pit at the stock exchange? Ever wonder what goes on behind the closed doors of the offices of the ones who aren't in the pit and really run things moneywise? Ever wonder how the country got to where we are tonday? Read this book. Is it really fiction? If anything it should be read as part of a required education for all Americans, so maybe when this downturn happens again we may know what to look for and stay out of the mess.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 13, 2011

    Great Read

    Awesome summertime read, fast-paced....don't start it unless you have time to finish! I couldn't put it down and was up way past my bedtime, well worth the loss of sleep! Can't wait to see what he comes up with next!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 12, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Good story

    If you like Wall Street thrillers, this is a god story, and timely too. I am in business so, I enjoyed it more so

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 19, 2009

    Top Producer's Stock Soars!

    Top Producer is a mystery/thriller set against the high streets of finance and the back alleys of corruption. That itself should be enough to scare you!

    If considering a "hedge fund" in the past, this reader's thought patterns would go towards money put away for purposes of purchasing and installing new landscaping. Understandably, I never quite followed how people made such a killing (no pun intended) on hedge funds. Yet I found the explanations of "Wall St. speak" in this book easy to follow, even for a financial feather brain such as myself. In fact I think I even learned a thing or two about the investment business while completely caught up in the story of Grover O'Rourke.

    In a world where even goldfish are sharks, Grover (a financial adviser at Sachs, Kidder and Carnegie) and his team are the angel fish of the aquarium. Who would think that a financial adviser had a heart, much less a sense of morality? (My first adviser churned my account while I lived overseas, my last one is currently facing 12 - 25 years on SEC charges.)

    Proving the old adage that "no good deed goes unpunished", the renegade hero wades in over his head to help the widow of a friend murdered in a freakishly public display - and the waters are not safe for swimming. Nonetheless, Grover O'Rourke battles the current - managing by willpower, luck and considerable effort to keep his head above water.

    The humor, vivid imagery and story line made for reading into the wee hours of the morning. I rooted for the unlikely hero and his small, undervalued school of accomplices. I feared the sharks circling the tank. I never saw what was coming, the red herrings were too tasty.

    I'll be looking forward to more works from Norb Vonnegut.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 17, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Good Producer

    Norb Vonnegut has given us a financial thriller, except for most of us we have to gloss over the financial part. I don't understand that Wall Street jargon, but the good thing is that you don't have to. What we have here is a good story about a scam, with lots of timely allusions to more recent and famous scams. You'll like the main characters- at least the good ones- and the pacing of the story will keep you into it until you finish. Then you will probably thank your lucky stars that you don't have enough money to get scammed bigtime- unless you do of course, in which case you had best not read the book!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 19, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Very interesting

    I enjoyed this story. I do feel that the book is better appreciated by those who dapple in the stock market.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 26, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Predictable Storyline and Plot

    This book has a gripping opening and hook, but it gets lost in its own complexity mid-way through. The author really goes to some length to add extraneous detail to every scene. It's almost obnoxious.

    I didn't mind reading the book because the subject matter - hedge funds, Wall Street, corruption - seems so compelling. Whether the author is a Vonnegut or not, the book could have been written within 250 pp.

    There's more exposition about stock regulation than page-turning action. The suspense gets solidly redundant as the book tries to build up the plot. Investor #1 wants her money back, investor #2 wants her money back, etc.

    I might have enjoyed the book more had there been more character development. The story essentially revolves around the main character without much attention to anyone else. The book could have used a little more action as well to make it a 4 star book.

    Reading the book, I almost got the sense that author Norb Vonnegut wanted to create a character he could live through vicariously. This made the character and the storyline one-dimensional and predictable

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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