The factors which have made several of Stephen's Frey's previous novels extremely enjoyable are his detailed knowledge of the financial markets and investment industry together with his ability to create action filled plots with enough misdirection to maintain the reader's interest. Thus, I have been willing to overlook what I regard as their main failures - the minimal character development with the usual exception of his central character and the completely unrealistic assumption (usually central to his plots) that desperate business leaders in positions of power who find their secrets or wealth threatened will routinely resort to murder in an attempt to solve their problems. Unfortunately, the plots of his recent books have gotten more unbelievable and extreme; THE CHAIRMAN continues that trend. In addition, this book suffers from several instances of extremely sloppy editing and a conclusion that fails to tie up several loose ends and leaves in doubt the fate of one of the major characters. My four star rating is due to the fact that my enjoyment of the plot, the strong character development of THE CHAIRMAN Christian Gillette, and a few other positive factors outlined below offset the several negative aspects which I will mention. Approximately half way through the story, I was actually tempted to speed read to the conclusion; I was sufficiently hooked to want to follow the plot to its conclusion but was increasingly frustrated at times by excesses in which the author indulged. However, the relative brevity combined with some interesting insights made me glad that I paid attetion to the details until the conclusion.
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.