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.