Review of Russell Blake’s Zero Sum trilogy

Russell Blake has knocked it out of the park with his Zero Sum trilogy. He has masterfully created a high stakes, “low-intensity” conflict that spans the globe, and left me reading as fast as possible. Drawn from recent headlines, his visionary portrayal of Wall Street manipulation is brilliant, and his storyline’s complicit entanglement of certain shadowy government factions is explosive.

Steven Archer just complicated his life beyond repair. By exposing the repeated pump and dump schemes of nefarious Wall Street mogul, Nicholas Griffen, he has created a lifelong enemy. Unfortunately for Archer, Nicholas Griffen would like it to be a short life, and leans on some of his less legitimate customers to take care of the task. Griffen is in over his head with his latest stock play, and if it doesn’t play out right, his head could easily become detached from his body. Russian mob, La Cosa Nostra, Neo-nazi sex traffickers…take your pick, he’s laundered unforgettable sums of money for all of them through his Wall Street scam. He’s also in bed with Uncle Sam, providing outrageous investment returns that fund covert operations around the world. As long as Steven Archer continues to breathe, Griffen has a problem.

Archer quickly and painfully learns that the stakes are higher than he ever imagined, and goes “dark” with the help of unexpected, but very plausible sources. He plots his next move, while Griffen’s forces close on in on him. What ensues is an intense cat-and-mouse chase across three continents, where the stakes increase exponentially with every turn, and Archer carefully (or so he thinks) starts to take the battle to his enemies.

Zero Sum is a classic revenge thriller that evoked a strong sense of emotional outrage, followed by a deep sense of satisfaction. Exactly what I look for in a revenge scenario. What sets this book apart is the road between. It’s a long, arduous path for Steven Archer, fueled by a need for redemption and revenge, which kept me rooting for the protagonist through the thick of it. This is a protagonist that takes his licks and gives them right back, “Die Hard” style…coming out a little worse for the wear at the end of each scene. I also loved the complicated relationship between Nicholas Griffen and his less than “legitimate” silent business partners. The sense of impending bodily harm was palpable every time Griffen met with Sergei. I’m not kidding…these scenes made me cringe. Russell Blake captured the essence of this character’s capriciously violent nature perfectly. All of the main characters are finely crafted in a similar fashion, and left me with a solid picture and expectation of their behavior. This is one of Blake’s many strong points as an author, which gets better with each novel.

Another enjoyable aspect of Zero Sum, is Blake’s description of the more exotic settings. He took considerable time and effort to conjure vivid details in each locale. At first I didn’t fully appreciate the effort, since I was so focused on the action and “dark” men lurking around every corner, but it finally caught up to me, and I was able to thoroughly enjoy the rich description of some amazing locations. From Cuba to a quiet Caribbean island…a bustling Buenos Aires to a picturesque seaside village in Italy. This is a trip you don’t want to miss.

Russell Blake has quickly become one of my favorite authors, and like I’ve said before, with author’s like Blake on the market, I’m slowly replacing my need to buy books from the “branded” authors. While their books seem to get worse with time, Blake’s keep getting better, and more epic in scope and quality.

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25 Comments

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25 responses to “Review of Russell Blake’s Zero Sum trilogy

  1. Pingback: Russell Blake » Thoughts

  2. Thanks for the glowing review, Steven. I’m glad you liked the trilogy, and enjoyed the nuance. I’ve got the first book in the Zero Sum serial trilogy – Kotov Syndrome – free on Amazon right now, so readers can get a good sense of the quality at no cost.

    I picked up your new one, Black Flagged, when I saw it was available, and I’m really looking forward to reading it. I thought The Jakarta Pandemic was a great read, and given that I bought your next one as well, that should tell you I’m a fan. Here’s wishing you much success with your newest!

  3. Great review! I just got my copy for the first book and will launch into it over the weekend. I expect to be a goner and HAVE to have the other two. I loved both Fatal Exchange and The Geronimo Breach. That’s for a heads up on what to expect.

    • I’m glad I could help steer readers in the right direction. It’s a fun read…I especially liked it, because Russell takes his characters to two locations important to my recently launched series. Uncanny. I

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  5. Okay, Steven, this better be a good series, ’cause I just downloaded all three books based on your review!

    • You’ll enjoy Blake’s books. Great storylines, fun characters…I’ve read all of his books. This is a talented author, without a doubt…finding Russell’s work and getting to know him as an author has been a rewarding experience. Check out his blog post too…I head over to his blog when I need a good laugh (I mean this in a good way…he’s a riot).

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  7. So far, so good. It’s a nice juxtaposition with Family of Secrets by Russ Baker which i’m also reading.

  8. lots of interesting authors out there–

  9. i don’t know a long position from a short position, or a put from a call, but I’m really enjoying the trilogy. I read Part 1 last night and now I’m on the second book.

  10. Hi Nancy. A call is an option to buy stock at a future date at a fixed price. There are two parties – the buyer and the seller. The seller hopes the stock goes down in value, as he gets to keep the money he made by selling the call option. The buyer of the call hopes the stock goes up in value, as he then can either sell the option for more than he bought it for, or buy the stock for less than it is now at once in increases. The option increases in value as the price rises. The buyer of a call makes money on a price increase in the stock, and loses money if it falls in value.

    A put is the opposite – it’s an agreement to sell shares of stock at a fixed price by a fixed date. Again, there are two parties to the option, the seller and the buyer. The seller of a put hopes the stock will rise in price, as he will get the money he made selling the put when it expires worthless. The buyer is purchasing the right to sell stock at a certain price. Say the stock is trading at $10. He buys a put for a dollar to sell 100 shares at $11. He pays $2 for the option, per share. The stock falls to $5 during the duration of the contract, so now he can either buy stock at $5 and sell it to the put seller at $11, pocketing the $4 he made ($11 minus the $2 option cost) or he can sell the contract, which increases in price in lockstep with the drop in share price.

    Options are time-defined leveraged instruments. With a put, that means if you have $1000 to play with, You could buy control of 100 contracts (each contract is 100 shares) giving you leverage, or risk, on 10K shares, say, expiring in December. If the stock falls $3 by Dec. 31, you just made $20K with your $1K. If it stays flat or goes up, you lose the $1K. The stock would need to drop more than the $1 per share option price by the time the option expires for you to make money on your put. The reverse would hold true for a call.

    This is all oversimplified. Think of calls and puts as side bets based on the stock price. Calls increase in value if the price rises, puts increase in value of the price drops. For the purposes of the book, that two sentence explanation should work.

    Glad you’re enjoying the books. Let me know what you think once you’re done, and leave a review on the bundle package and the free one if you like it. Hopefully you will…

    Russ

  11. And everyone thought they would never learn something on my blog. Thank you Russell. Let me know if any of your readers need information about tactical weapons or military equipment…that might be the only area in which I could help to this degree.

  12. You could teach them a thing or two about writing a good novel too, my friend. There’s that. I’m enjoying Black Flagged. Everyone should buy a copy.

  13. Thanks, Russell. I now have a teeny bit more knowledge than I did before. I think the ending of book three was kind of ironic, but I’m not going to say more or it would spoil things. I’ll put review on Amazon later. Steven, thanks for helping me find another author to read. They had a news story on local tv about ‘preppers,’ people who are preparing to survive disasters. I went to one blog, and the reasons they gave for prepping were rather out there, in some cases. Jakarta Pandemic still sticks with me, btw. And how could you put such a short sample of the next Black Flagged book on the ebook of Black Flagged? You left me hanging!!

  14. Good going, Nancy. If you’d be kind enough to leave the review on the bundle of book two and three, I’d appreciate it. That way it will stay up when I roll all the books into one and make it one very long book! Try Geronimo Breach if you want something equally diverting, if not more. I think that’s my favorite to date, although The Delphi Chronicle trilogy and King of Swords are probably my best work yet. At least that’s what I think. If you want to see an unedited preview of King of Swords that I started on Friday, admittedly unedited, you can see it at http://www.nanowrimo.org/en/participants/bitter-words/novels/king-of-swords-149183

    • Thank you for the kind words, Mr. Blake! King of Swords and Delphi Chronicle? I will immediately take a look at the sample. Am I reading too much into the titles…Fantasy genre? I can’t wait, especially if you feel it’s your best work.

      • Ah…I just checked the NAMOWRIMO link…must say I’m a little relieved. For a second, I thought you had delved into a Lord of the Rings diversion. Which, with your talent, would have been excellent. The book sounds unbelievable! Unfortunately for me, I’m doing the opposite for November. More like NAMOWRINOMO.

  15. Sorry, Nancy. Admittedly, that is all I have for book two. I plan to start writing regularly next week, maybe over the weekend. I need to settle on a story arc, because the next one will take me all over the globe, with multiple threads going like the first book. And, I want to add some flashbacks, to give readers a sense of how Daniel and the others were recruited and trained. A lot for one book, and I want to do it sensibly. I’ll enlist your aid a little further along. AND, thank you for the generous review on Amazon!

  16. Steven. I don’t recommend writing them like this. 1 book, 12 days. Lot of 15 hour days there. But there is a little spooky thing, not fantasy, as the story develops. Now I just gotta write the second half of the book by next Friday…

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  21. Pingback: Groundbreaking Interview with Critically Acclaimed Author, Russell Blake |

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