The Chairman: A Novel Mass Market Paperback – Dec 27 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
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 © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
After the chairman of Everest Capital dies and private-fund manager Christian Gillette is elected successor, Gillette finds himself wielding previously unimagined power and exposed to equally unimagined danger (he barely averts being assassinated when his limo explodes). He doesn't mind wielding his might, first by firing one of the managing partners, then by snubbing a U.S. senator; however, accumulating enemies does not stop Gillette from planning the biggest venture fund in history. Frey does not characterize Gillette as a purely evil money-grubber; he is also shown to have a weakness for the downtrodden and gives generously to many needy families--even going so far as to buy them homes and establish trust funds for their children. Frey tries a bit too hard with this fast-paced financial thriller, and his plot contains a few glaringly implausible scenarios--would billionaire Gillette really frequent pool halls in seedy neighborhoods just to win $5,000? This is Frey's first series so perhaps the next Gillette venture will be a bit smoother. Mary Frances Wilkens
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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The story opens with Christian Gillette delivering the euology for Bill Donovan, the founder and former Chairman of Everest Capital, one of largest, most successful, and most powerful private equity partnerships in the world. Donovan's unexpected death has led to the necessity of invoking the stipulation in the partnership's operating agreement to choose a sucessor within three days; Gillette is now THE CHAIRMAN after a controversial and razor thin vote. He knows that he will need to consolidate his power quickly - both with regard to several individuals within Everest (particularly his previously three co-equal managers Troy Mason, Ben Cohen and Nigel Faraday) and also with regard to the many competitors who would be waiting for any indication of weakness or uncertainty on his part. While the police investigation has ruled Donovan's death a tragic accident, Gillette's concern that it might indeed have resulted from foul play is heightened when he narrowly escapes death during an attempt on his life as he leaves the church which results in the death of two innocent bystanders. Immediately, we are treated to the high degree of implausibilty often encountered in the story when everyone at the funeral immediately proceeds to the reception at the mansion now owned by Donovan's widow and acts as if it were business as usual and the fiery explosion and resultant deaths had not occurred. Such behavior is totally ridiculous, both from the standpoint of the emotional impact which it would exact and also police procedure. And what is frustrating is that neither the author or his editor apparently cared that his goals in writing this sequence of events as he did could have been accomplished in a much more believable manner with a fairly simple rewrite that would have made the story much more believable. Such unnecessarily dramatic or over the top scenes occurred throughout the book. One further example that I will mention is the supposed background fact that private equity gunslingers routinely achieve returns of 50 to 100 percent a year. Frey knows this is hyperbole, and furthermore it is totally unnecessary to the plot.
The story races along as Gillette is faced with the need to act on several fronts simultaneously; he confronts a problem by almost immediately firing one of his rivals, then is forced to respond to an offer by a major firm to purchase an energy company in Everest's portfolio which may have an acreage position with huge undiscovered reserves. He soon decides to begin to raise the capital for the next Everest fund, and strives to maintain cordial relations with Donovan's widow, whose unexpected support provided his slim margin of victory and who retains a huge financial interst in the firm. As the story proceeds, further attempts are made on Gillette's life; other actors in this convoluted drama are actually murdered. In a key move Gillette eschews the protection provided by the security firm owned by Everest and hires Quentin Stiles, a security expert with whom he gradually establishes an interesting rapport and an unexpected degree of trust. Nevertheless, events continue to escalate beyond his control and dangers seemed to multiply both to Everest Capital and to his personal safety as well.
Segments of this story are very realistic, and it is made even more enjoyable by the fact that many of these fictional individuals and companies seem to be patterned after similar real life examples. Furthermore, I found the technique of beginning each chapter (with the exception of the final three) with a brief definition that a provided a necessary introduction and/or summary of the subject matter to be very effective. Some are very insightful, e.g. the comment that while our routines allow us the comfort of maintaining order in our lives and avoiding anarchy, they also allow us to avoid original thought and create opportunity for an enemy. The comments in another chapter concerning the benefits of seeking confrontation in the search for progress were also very apropos. In addition, the complexity of Gillette's character is gradually revealed in a clever manner as the story unfolds, often during his interactions with Stiles. Unfortunately, just as in the case of the plot, some elements are carried to such extremes as to lessen the credibility of the portrait that is drawn.
In summary, I decided that the many enjoyable elements of this story outweighed the substantial negatives by a sufficient margin to round up my rating to four stars. But I want to emphasize how sloppy the editing is. While I can't go into detail without providing a spoiler, during the climactic scene one of the participants faces additional danger because there are no cellphone signals in the rural backwater where the action occurs; yet a few seconds later when it becomes necessary for the plot to succeed his adversary in the same location receives a crucial call on his cell phone. If these sort of inexplicable and unnecessary errors ruin your enjoyment of a story, then skip this book. Otherwise, while you may be as frustrated as I was by the unrealized potential of THE CHAIRMAN, you should still find it enjoyable.
One final note: congratulations to the publishers for pricing this slim volume appropriately and at a discount to most hardcovers by established authors. I have become increasingly frustrated at the number of relatively brief novels (often with large print and lots of wasted blank pages) which provide little value for their list prices in excess of $25. This book is a welcome exception.
I may be remembering how I feel about Frey in a negative light. But it seems to me that I have always almost really enjoyed every one of his books. And I stress the 'almost'. His characters are always stand-offish. He writes in an almost impersonal manner. For the first time he has found a protagonist here in 'The Chairman' where this negative turns into a positive. Gillette is a brutal CEO. Time and time again he is relentless and ugly. But as a reader, you forgive him for this... after all he is a CEO of a powerful modern business entity. What else would you expect. One mistake that Frey makes however, is about half way through he shifts the character of Gillette and tries to make him a Coben style everyman hero... odd and doesn't work. So over the ending of this story Gillette switches between good guy/evil CEO.
One thing that struck me was how mysterious this whole book was for the first half at least. The story starts, as I said, at a funeral. Its chaos. 20 small deals and stories are told in rapid fire. This helps flesh out the characters and the situation... but we still dont know what the heck is going on... what this story is about. The confusion continues on for at least 200 pages. We learn that a lot of negatives are hovering around the company, but again, what else would you expect of a gigantic corporation? Like normal life, you the reader and Gillette, the protagonist dont know whats going on at all. Frey deftly turns this into a solid bit of suspense.
Im taking off a star for the ending. It falls apart over the last two chapters as the very huge jumble of story threads starts to get resolved. Besides that, the story shifts focus about 2/3's of the way in. Instead of working with the reader in real time and following Gillette as he reacts to the moment, Frey has Gillette seemingly find out what is going on and he slowly fills in the missing pieces for the reader. This is frustrating, too cute, and a ploy too many other authors use to keep up suspense. However, this is the least suspenseful part of the book. Its disconcerting to follow Gillette while he knows what might be happening and you the reader are totally lost. Lastly, one character in the story, (Isabella), what the heck? this character does nothing but add a huge layer of confusion.
still. A lot to like here. Worth reading.
Christian wonders who amongst his rivals, (Troy, Ben Cohen, and Nigel Faraday) would want him hostilely removed. He rules out the family oriented Ben who is to into the weeds. He eliminates Troy because he believes the culprit murdered Bill and Troy knew that it was a matter of time before his mentor would retire. However as he takes charge of the firm now trusting no one, he realizes the assailant is trying to destroy Everest Capital; even with private investigator Tom McGuire and his firm on the case, it appears the offender will succeed in obliterating the company and perhaps killing the new CEO.
More a cat and mouse suspense tale than a finance thriller, THE CHAIRMAN is an exciting boardroom novel. The ruthless cutthroat (in this case literally) between inside rivals insure that the audience understands the golden rule is do unto others before they do unto you. Thus, Christopher don't call me Chris anymore is a cold person whose life motto is trust no one; this mantra actually gets him in deeper trouble as he must rely on others like McGuire if he to live let alone save the company. Stephen Frey continues to be the chairman of the board when it comes to dirty deadly practices on Wall St.
Frey is an absolute marvel at explaining the ins and outs of money to those of us who have trouble making change, and he is in top form in THE CHAIRMAN, his latest novel. The chairman is Christian Gillette, who finds himself heading Everest Capital --- one of the world's largest private equity partnerships --- upon the untimely, suspicious death of William Donovan. (If you don't know what a "private equity partnership" is, don't worry; Frey describes what it is, and his explanation is so interesting that your eyes won't glaze over once.) Gillette is driven, calculating, and not especially likable; it is still a surprise, however, when attempts are made on his life before Donovan is even in the ground.
Gillette, ever a broken field runner, is unfazed. He will do whatever it takes to make Everest the biggest equity partnership in the world --- and he will do it with the same aggressiveness and ruthlessness that he has utilized throughout his entire career. The major problem that faces Gillette is that in order to achieve his goal he will have to trust someone, in an industry where trust is a weakness. There is more treachery and duplicity in THE CHAIRMAN than you will find in your average espionage novel, but then, the stakes are higher. Gillette has the opportunity to acquire billions of dollars --- and to control even more.
Frey continues his tradition of making the complex and unfamiliar understandable and commonplace. Intricately plotted, with unforgettable characters and innumerable twists and turns, THE CHAIRMAN is a winner.
--- Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub