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Monday, May 30, 2016

Uncommon Stock: Exit Strategy

Exit Strategy is the third book of Peper’s trilogy. Mara Winkle, the CEO of Mozaik explained the nature of her start up company: “We’ve simply built a took that targets illegal financial activity. We’re looking for money launderers and fraudsters.” What could possibly go wrong when Mozaik’s targets were among the most powerful, wealthy, and ruthless people in the world?

When the government determined that the Mozaik software did exactly what it promised, a law was passed that required all financial institutions to use it. In order to meet the sudden incredible demand for their services, Mara had to find the money to ramp up the company quickly. They needed lots of help and lots of money. The evil Lars had Mozaik in a stranglehold, and he killed some of the people who were closes to Mara and James. He threatened to do away with more people if they didn’t cooperate. When Mara and James figured out exactly how Lars planned to become the biggest money launderer on the planet by inserting a bug into their program, Mara thought, “That’s how these games worked. You found leverage over people, and then turned them into your pawns. And she was sick of being a pawn.”

In the process of writing a great mystery plot and creating characters that you’ll love and hate, Peper takes you through the details of the trials and pitfalls of the start-up world. In addition to learning a lot, you’ll see some hours fly by. The author brings this story to a fitting and satisfying conclusion.

Uncommon Stock: Power Play

Power Play is the second book of the Uncommon Stock trilogy by Eliot Peper. My biggest problem with this series is that I had too little time to read the three books straight through. I promise that you’ll want to do just that. In praising Peper’s plot and character development, I probably neglected to talk about his descriptive skills. I’ll give you an example. At the start of the second book as he depicts Mara Winkle’s entrance to an event at Burning Man, he wrote, “Sweat poured down her body inside the one-piece olive flight suit, zipper midway down for fresh air and the promise of cleavage. Her multicolored chemiluminescent rings and bracelets traced patterns through the air as her arms and hands followed the trumpet’s descending scale. It felt good to not be thinking for a change.”

This book develops the attempts by Lars to use his firm Maelstrom to control the use of Mozaik’s powerful financial software. Mara and James learned too late that Lars’ intentions were nefarious. Bodies began to disappear, and they soon learned that he was a money launderer who moved billions of dollars around the globe on behalf of some very bad people. Lars really was in league with dirty bankers, not someone who wanted to bring them down.

I don’t want to say more about the plot – just read this one, and then you’ll be ready for the conclusion of the trilogy.

Uncommon Stock: Version 1.0

James is a software genius who developed a program which he referred to as “quantitative pattern recognition.” In Uncommon Stock: Version 1.0, he came up with the idea when he was looking for a way to shortcut grading a lot of exams for the professor for whom he was working a TA at University of Colorado Boulder. But then, he realized that he could use quantitative pattern recognition to uncover financial fraud, and then he broke into one seemingly innocuous university affiliated program to test out his theory on real data. It worked better than he dreamed, but in the process, he tipped off some people who did not want to be discovered, at any cost.

James was ready to drop out of college to start a company, Mozaik, based on the idea that large banks would want to know if their institutions were being used to launder money. Therefore they could avoid the huge fines that had to be paid once such discoveries were made by the Feds. But, James was a computer guy who had limited people skills. He certainly did not know how to create an organization, so he turned to his long time friend Mara Winkle. Mara had been geared to follow her successful parents into the law, not be a drop out who chased Silicon Valley dreams. But, Mara liked the idea of catching bad guys, and she blew off her parents to pursue James ideas. It’s not that Mara had any start up business experience, but James had faith she could figure it out, and he trusted her.

This is the first book in a trilogy, all of which are quick and intense reads. The author, Eliot Peper is self-published, and I already wrote a very favorable review of his stand-alone novel, Cumulus. It was that book which teased me into jumping at this trilogy, and Peper has done it again. Character and plot development are excellent. I found myself pulling for James and Mara to be successful against all odds, while at the same time being fearful for their survival since they had awakened some very sinister forces. Be prepared to read the next two books in quick succession. You’ll want to know what happens to these characters and where Peper takes the story.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Blood of Saints by Meagan Beaumont

Former SF homicide cop Sabrina Vaughan ran. Ran from a violent past that forced her to abandon her former identity via her ‘death’ to a forgotten Montana valley. Michael O’Shea, the guy who helped pull off her disappearance and two children, secondary victims of Livingstone Shaw, the guy whose relentless pursuit of Sabrina forced her faked death. For all intents and purposes, her former life is dead and buried.

Until the reopening of a cold case from 20y previous, a case she with which she had no connection, turns up forensic evidence of Sabrina’s involvement. Sabrina is forced to come out of hiding (in now her third identity) and fool everyone involved in the Arizona investigation that she and her partner (a former hitter for Shaw) are FBI.

A number of times, her former identity almost resurfaces, but she manages to keep the ruse going. The investigation has to connect the original murder with her personal history, a SF triad-type, the shift of the crime scene to Arizona and everyone involved with one of those industrial farms that owns thousands of acres and hundreds of illegals working the fields and all the political heft that comes with being the richest family in the county.

Stepping into the middle of a continuing story can be risky and the ability of the reader to connect with the story from previous books is a tough task for writer and reader alike. I liked this story. It was a tangled and convoluted tale of old and forgotten memories and conflicts that extend across the border to Mexico. Sabrina is one tough cop whose intensity when on the trail manages to be one of her worst enemies.

My best recommendation is to start with the first book in this series (this is #4). I had a hard time connecting what had happened across the 3 prior books with what was currently under investigation. Sabrina’s history is detailed and complex, probably best read first hand rather than trying to assemble a jigsaw puzzle without a picture as a guide.

East Coast Don

Available August 8, 2016