The Silent Oligarch: A 3pt Review

The Silent Oligarch book cover

The Silent Oligarch by Chris Morgan Jones

Wherein I write about what I’ve read…

From the publisher…

Racing between London and Moscow, Kazakhstan and the Caymans, The Silent Oligarch reveals a sinister unexplored world where the wealthy buy the justice they want — and the silence they need. Here, private spy agencies duel for dominance, governments eagerly defer to the highest bidder, and colossal wealth is amassed through shadowy networks of companies. But where the money actually flows — and who benefits from such corruption — is hidden, sometimes in plain sight.

Behind the imposing splendor of the Kremlin rises a run-down office building, home to the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources. A nondescript bureaucrat in a drab government agency, Konstatin Malin secretly controls a vast business that dominates the nation’s oil industry, making him one of the most feared and wealthy men in Russia. Over the years, Malin has siphoned billions from the state and poured them into his private empire, hiding what he owns offshore.

The man who has done the hiding is Richard Lock, a diffident English lawyer whose life in Moscow is falling apart: Crisscrossing the world administering his master’s affairs, he has seen his relationships with his estranged family and highly practical mistress slowly deteriorate. Lock is bound to Malin by marriage, complacency, greed, and, most of all, by a complex lie that neither can escape. But slowly, Lock is beginning to realize that the lie will not always hold.

Once an idealistic young journalist, Benjamin Webster now works as an investigator at a London corporate intelligence firm, a mercenary spy for the rich and powerful. Webster’s cynicism and anger were born when he witnessed a colleague murdered in Russia for asking too many tough questions; now, ten years later, he may finally be able to avenge her unsolved murder. Hired by a client to ruin Malin, he discovers that this shadowy figure might have arranged his friend’s gruesome death to hide a terrible secret buried at the heart of his criminal empire.

Soon Webster realizes that Lock is Malin’s great weakness, and when he starts to apply pressure, Lock’s fragile world begins to crack. His colleagues begin dying mysteriously, his relationship with Malin turns ominously ice cold. The police begin asking questions, the newspapers smell blood in the water, and Webster’s investigators close in on the the truth. Suddenly Lock is running for his life — though from Malin or Webster, the law or his own past, he couldn’t say.

A heart-pounding hunt around the world through opulent bedrooms and anonymous hotels, The Silent Oligarch is a chilling and unforgettable novel of our time.

My thoughts (There may or may not be spoilers):

  1. This book is not a thriller. That is to say, the events that take place in this story are not particularly thrilling — which is not meant to be a criticism. I admit that when I think of books about international espionage, I think “thriller,” but international corporate espionage is, apparently, something altogether different from its political counterpart. The stakes don’t seem quite so high because, by and large, only the corporate entities involved are affected by the outcome. The story makes for entertaining enough reading but if one is expecting swashbuckling derring-do, well, don’t.
  2. The events that happen don’t matter as much as how events are viewed by the main characters. Ben Webster and Richard Lock, though (initially) opposed in their objectives, serve as dual protagonists. However, the choices they make, and the consequences of those choices are ultimately unimportant. A lot of time is spent inside each man’s head, as the story alternates between their points of view, giving us an understanding of why each man is motivated to act as he does and how they have each come to be in their respective circumstances. The story, then, is not so much about the pervasive corporate corruption that serves as its backdrop. Rather, it is about the pernicious effects of that corruption on the lives of these two individuals.
  3. The moral of the story: The more things change, the more they stay the same. In the end, our heroes accomplish very little. They strike a Pyrrhic blow, at best, against Goliath yet the behemoth remains un-slayed. Such an ending seems greatly unsatisfying, but no less so for Webster and Lock, who struggled, albeit, anemically, to best their own demons every step of the way. On the one hand, it was an anticlimactic ending, capping off a largely colorless story. On the other hand, the ending perhaps reflected reality in a way that may have been the point all along.

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