The Silent Oligarch
By: Christopher Morgan Jones
Deep in the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources sits a nondescript bureaucrat named Konstantin Malin. He draws a nominal government salary but from his shabby office controls half the nation’s oil industry, making him one of the most wealthy and feared men in Russia. His public face is Richard Lock, a hapless money launderer bound to Malin by marriage, complacency, and greed. Lock takes the proceeds of his master’s corruption, washes them abroad, and invests them back in Russia in a secret business empire. He knows little about Malin’s true affairs, but still he knows too much.
Benjamin Webster is an investigator at a London corporate intelligence firm. Years before, as an idealistic young journalist in Russia, Webster saw a colleague murdered for asking too many hard questions of powerful people; her true killers have never been found. Hired to ruin Malin, Webster comes to realize that this shadowy figure might have ordered her gruesome death, and that this case may deliver the justice he has been seeking for a decade.
As Webster peels back the layers of Malin’s shell companies and criminal networks, Lock’s colleagues begin dying mysteriously, police around the world start to investigate, and Malin begins to question his trust in his increasingly exposed frontman. Suddenly Lock is running for his life- though from Malin or Webster, the law or his own past, he couldn’t say.
I received an advanced reading copy of this book recently thanks to GoodReads so I decided to read this book as soon as I could in order to provide a review before the novel is formally released next month.
To start, I think Jones did a good job of portraying the more intricate and sometimes-shadowy nature of global business, especially when it ties in with politics on such a close level. As such, if you’re not big on reading up business transaction reports (as I am), reading some of the details can be a bit of a dry read, even despite of the nature of the plot itself. This is especially the case at the start of the novel; while the introduction of all of the characters was interesting, the nature of Lock’s business meetings tend to drag a little bit and didn’t engage me as much as I had hoped. But despite of this, it was necessary because of the nature of the conflict that was playing out in the novel and it put the geopolitical and market issues into perspective. I agree heartily with comments floating around in the Net that this is a new reality in the geopolitical landscape, that businesses and markets play an important role in the way that political groups deal with each other. This also continues to be an issue for post-Soviet Russia.
So yes, the story did flow rather slowly at the beginning, piquing here and there but then returning to a lull until midway in the novel when Richard Lock finally started to realise the gravity of the situation. From there the plot moved at quite a steady pace, even if the action was rather brief. But given the nature of the story itself, I thought the overall plot worked out in a logical manner; the story was neither too long or too short. I think the lullness at the start had to go with the fact that the reader receives an account of actions that transpired moreso than dialogue and interaction between characters beyond the necessary scenes.
The characters that populated this story were interesting to a degree, though I never really warmed up to either. I guess you could say I generated enough sympathy for Lock, whose situation was pretty bleak from the get-go but I never got a sense of a reason as to how he ended up in that situation of working for Malin to begin with; maybe I missed it in the narrative, I don’t know. Benjamin Webster also had a past that continued to haunt him over the course of the story, but for some reason I never really felt much for the character. I guess if we had more scenes between Webster and Inessa, I would have understood the connection moreso than from the account that was given in the novel.
Overall, it was an interesting novel that reflects the new realities and murky aspects of the geopolitical climate (at least in that part of the world); you could say that this novel is in the vein of later le Carre novels (The Constant Gardener comes to mind). It kept me entertained enough, though it did lagged quite a bit in the beginning. The main character was interesting, though I wish there had been more backstory. I would recommend this novel if you’re into suspense novels less-based on outright spy thrillers and in the realm of global business and marketting.