Saturday, January 28, 2012

"The Silent Oligarch"

For eleven years Christopher Morgan Jones worked at the world’s largest business intelligence agency, Kroll International. He has advised Middle Eastern governments, Russian oligarchs, New York banks, London hedge funds, and African mining companies.

He applied the Page 69 Test to The Silent Oligarch, his first novel, and reported the following:
At a recent crime writers' event in a bookshop in Cambridge (England, where the book came out a few months ago) a prospective reader picked up a copy and told me she was carrying out the Page 70 test - apparently over here we're a page out. I didn't pass, evidently, because she didn't buy it, but that was the UK version, and maybe she'd have felt differently about the US edition. Page 69 finds Ben Webster, one of the main characters in the book and the closest thing it has to a hero, talking with one of his sources in a shabby London café. Webster is a corporate investigator – part detective, part spy, as he puts it – who has been charged with destroying the reputation of a shadowy Russian bureaucrat, rumoured to be highly corrupt, who for the last ten years has been the power behind Russia’s energy industry. The man he’s meeting is Alan Knight, an English journalist who twenty years earlier went to Siberia to cover the oil industry, met and married a Russian and went native. Knight knows more about Russian oil than any Westerner alive, but clearly doesn’t want to talk about this: either he’s fantastically paranoid or he understands better than anyone how delicate and dangerous Webster’s questions really are. On the page in question he’s cagey and on edge, insisting that they change venue because he can’t be sure the original one is safe, and when they finally settle somewhere making Webster take the batteries out of his phone in case someone might be listening. I hope that anyone dipping in at this point would want to know why he was so afraid to talk and what he might be prepared to say. Webster certainly does:

“Webster put up with this degree of caution because Knight was good and because he had no competitors. If Russian business was famously opaque, energy was its dark centre, and Knight was one of the few peering in from the very rim.”
Learn more about the book and author at Chris Morgan Jones's website.

--Marshal Zeringue