Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Finder by Colin Harrison

 

The Finder by Colin Harrison was an enjoyable read. Harrison is a compelling story teller who drives a relentless pace with quirky, slightly over the top charaThe Findercters and just as slightly over the top scenes.

Like most of his thrillers, the novel is set in New York City which lends itself well to the “slightly over the top" parts. Harrison has been called “The Noir Poet” of New York, and though his work has a lot in common with the noir/hard-boiled genre I would define them more as an “Urban Thriller”; an age old genre I just now made up.

The two main characters of the story are Jin Li a beautiful, sexy Chinese girl who runs a boring company called CorpServe that provides cleaning services for a number of New York High-Rise corporations. They also provide “secure” paper shredding services. CorpServe is owned by Jin Li’s chauvinistic Chinese brother in China who behind the fa├žade of his boring businesses is stealing said paper from certain American Financial movers and shakers. He uses this “forgotten paper” in a world of computers to gather inside information for his dirty rotten Chinese henchmen-business partners to make billions on the stock markets of America and Asia.

Jin Li has recently broken off a relationship with her American lover, Ray Grant. Ray is a bit mysterious but Harrison seems to loose interest or his way in maintaining this sham of mystery. Ray is a NYFD fireman who was trapped under the twin towers on 9/11. he is left physically scarred and mentally wrecked so he runs off to exotic countries and drinks beer on warm beaches until he meets up with a Humanitarian Group that chases natural disasters and digs out the survivors. Ray has called recess on his ‘haunted journey to rescue people’ to come back to NY to be with his father who is a retired NY detective and battling the last stages of cancer.

Throw in some bad guy “Masters of the Universe” wall street types and their dirty rotten billionaires, want to be billionaires, their corporate minions, and their corporations. Mix with some detestable semi mob connected and wanna be mob connected characters, a gone to pot-and Drambuie, obese check cashing queen who never leaves her bed and one small time lawyer who’s only purpose seems to  be to setup two unimportant sentences-one at the start and one at the end of the story-and provide a fifteen minute quicky with Ray so he has a place to park his pickup truck so the bad guys can find him and pick him up….yeah, he lost me there, too. I tend not to like 'throw away' characters and subscribe to the Eric Jerome Dickey school of "Every Character Has Their Purpose-No Extras".

The story opens at the end of an office cleaning shift for CorpServe and Jin Li at one of the corporations. Good Pharma, a bio tech that is about to release an IPO behind the strength of two or three major (read marketable) drugs and products. Problem is that someone in Asia has found out that the product pushing the price into the stratosphere has some problems in testing. Jin Li and her crew of illegal Mexican laborers have been selectively sending their trash to Shanghai where her brothers communist turned uber capitalist partners have started selling and selling cheap, endangering the IPO and the mega bucks the investors stand to make. Jin Li, being the international industrial spy master who is so careful maintaining her cover that she breaks it off with Ray because she is so in love with him and pillow talk being what it is, doesn’t want to risk her secret getting out. So what does she do? She goes for an after work, early in the wee hours of the morning, car ride with her cliched Mexican workers with their cliched accents, in there “rattling, uninsured fifteen year old car with expired Georgia plates”. they drive to the beach in Brooklyn to smoke a little dope and drink a little cheap wine. And get murdered in a particularly gross and over the top way. While “MeezaJin” is out taking a pee in the weeds a couple of guys show up in a sewage truck, lock the two Mexican girls in the car as salsa music blares from a cassette deck, break the sun roof and pump raw sewage into the car, drowning the girls. Not a particularly good way to end a shift of dusting the desks of Wall Streets movers and shakers. Jin Li, of course escapes thanks to her small Asian bladder and the cheap wine. Of course, she knows immediately that the “shitty” treatment was meant for her. So, she goes into hiding.

Her inside trading, superior-to-all-things-American-or-female brother comes to America to see what happened to his sister, and of course his front/company. Although through the entire book he shows nothing like concern or respect or sibling love for his sister, he inexplicably will go to the ends of the earth to find her. Enter Ray Grant. who is kidnapped from the throw away lawyers house after a pleasant fifteen minute roll in the sheets, and before she can cook his breakfast. And the race is on.

Like I said, the characters are cliched, over the top and a lot of the scenes are a bit sensational and off beat so much as to challenge believability. But Harrison makes it work through an engaging story and pace. The story is told in a narrative style, almost tongue-in cheek way, that reminded me of “The Prince of Thieves” by Chuck Hogan without the gravity. Its voice is very cynical with heavy use of irony in the introduction phase and then switches to the third person as we meet the characters. He gets a bit wordy at times, spending pages exploring ‘why’ a character is the way he is and what the characters motivations are. He does this until you almost, but not quite, want to start looking for quotation marks so you can get back to the great dialog. But, this kind of annoyed me in this style in places. At one point towards the climax of the story, he spends about three or four pages describing a tree nursery, what it means to the billionaire who is meeting a shady wall Street fixer there, to manipulate a a few stock markets so as to drive up the price of Good Pharmas stock, so he can sell it and get his hundred million back. He waxes poetic about the variety of trees, what walking in this place meant to him as a child. How it is a secret from all his ex wives, how he likes to watch the gardeners care for the trees and so on until you want to go get a chain saw and cut the damn trees down so he’ll continue the story. Then he gets on with it by instituting the plot to manipulate “the lift” on the stock. He throws out terms and financial strategies, techno jargon that only Wall Street types could possibly understand and you need a PhD in economics to appreciate. He spent about a paragraph and a half on this, potentially interesting and involving subject which is really the heart of the whole plot, after spending three pages on trees and a nursery that no one has ever heard of? And back them up against each other....

Nevertheless, he makes it work through the pace and compelling plot as a whole. I had read two other Colin Harrison novels,The Havana Room and After Burn which, in my opinion were much better done even if they did employ some elements of the over the top situations and plot elements. This seems to be Colin Harrisons stock in trade, and there are far wore stocks to have. I’ll read more of his work.

The Dirty Lowdown

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