Ay, carumba. When I read Black Fridays, the Edgar nominee for Best First Novel (reviewed here), I had high hopes that this would be the worthy successor to John Grisham’s white-collar, bruised-knuckle thriller. Alas, it was not to be. But Matthew Quirk’s The 500 more than ably fulfills that hope.
Here’s the set-up: Mike Ford is street-smart and book-smart, a Harvard grad who grew up with a small-time con for a father, a brother who turned to breaking and entering, and his own uncanny skill in lock-picking. He’s been recruited into a DC political consulting firm where junior associates do hundreds of hours of research to present a one-page memo (a process they call “boiling the sea”). And when your one-page memo isn’t enough to get the result that’s needed, you’re out the door. No do-overs. So when Mike is canny enough to keep working even after his memo is written, following the target and uncovering his stash of bribe money, and is able to keep his deal from going south, he thinks its a big win. It’s not. Although his brash behavior meets with approval (good), Mike is pulled over to the dark side of the Davies Group (bad and scary). Will Mike be able to triumph when all the odds are stacked against him, with nothing but his girlfriend, his father, and a family friend to help him do so? It is no spoiler to say “you bet he will.”
Excellent things about this book:
- Great plotting with minimal contrivances – All the twists are well set up.
- Believable characters – Even those who could have been over the top (Henry Davies as the Machiavellian leader of the Davies Group and warlord Radomir Dragovic) are nuanced.
- Fabulous suspense – The prologue sets up the climax and keeps you hanging, while Chapter 1 loops back around to Mike’s first encounter with Davies at Harvard, leaving you, as the reader, to bite your nails with each succeeding chapter as the final showdown comes inexorably closer.
Not 100% sold on:
- I’m not sure that every character is needed; the girlfriend’s father, for example.
- The tie between Mike’s father’s crime and Henry Davies (although a small tie) stretches credulity.
Still, good work by Matthew Quirk in this thoroughly enjoyable debut novel. He takes the lead in the ranking so far. Just two more to go!
MWA Edgar (Best First Novel) ranking so far:
- The 500 by Matthew Quirk
- Don’t Ever Get Old by Daniel Friedman
- Black Fridays by Michael Sears
- Mr. Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal