LitStack Recs: Desperate Characters & Mortal Bonds

by Tee Tate
Mortal Bonds (a Jason Stafford Novel)
by Michael Sears

Mortal Bonds is the second novel based around Jason Stafford, a former Wall Street trader who got caught up in the machinations of the financial industry. Recently released from two years in prison for his part in the Wall Street fiasco, he has returned to continued screechings from his bitchy ex (a former model that still carries around more than her share of baggage), full custody of their six year old son (referred to as the Kid, who is autistic), and thankfully a healthy relationship with a woman who is willing to give him a second chance.

Jason is trying to put his past behind him, but Wall Street is what he knows. So he takes the knowledge he has gained, both outside and inside of prison, coupled with the contacts he has made and the relationships that weathered the legal purge, and puts word out on the streets that he’s for hire as a financial consultant.

It’s not long before he is contacted by the von Becker family, scions of disgraced billionaire William von Becker, who supposedly committed suicide while in prison for defrauding billions out of friends and foes alike. It seems a healthy amount of cash has gone missing, and neither the family nor the authorities can locate even a minute trail of where the money is stashed. Eldest son Virgil just wants to put all the controversy to rest and start rebuilding the family name whereas the feds just want to recoup as much of the funds as they can. So Jason is hired to dig up what has eluded everyone thus far:  the missing billions.

It’s not long before it becomes apparent that it’s not just the family and the feds who are looking for the money; there are other less than savory interests at play. The deeper Jason digs, the more dangerous his task becomes. He’s never shied away from a challenge, but when the powers that want-to-be threaten not just his investigation but those he loves, the game turns into something far more than the shock waves of a rich man’s scheming. It becomes personal – and the fallout becomes deadly.

Michael Sears does a masterful job in creating a character that balances business savvy with very human cares , and in guiding us through the quagmire of the financial landscape without lecturing or pandering. That’s not surprising, seeing that Sears made his living on Wall Street for over 20 years before turning his talents to writing. On his website, he states, “The temptations that Jason succumbs to, and that drag down other characters in the book, are well known to me,” and that insight shows.

Jason Stafford is knowledgeable, smart, battle tested and slick, but he’s seen the promised land and decided that the price of its passage is too steep. Instead, he’s vowed to focus on being the best father he can be for his son, as well as regaining whatever positive rep he can for doing the right thing. This doesn’t mean that he’s planning on moving to the wilderness to become an organic farmer – his area of expertise is finance and he’s not about to turn his back on that – but he’s determined to not get pulled into the dreams of avarice that derail so many.

The action moves at a good clip, too. Bouncing between the personal and the professional, from pulling at lessons from the past and moving boldly into the future, Jason certainly has an interesting life. He is smart alecky enough to make us snicker occasionally, but he is not a know-it-all; he sometimes guesses  along with us when leads seem to turn into dead ends.

There is a certain element of the right thing happening at just the right time, and answers conveniently falling into place, but not enough for the action to feel campy. Also, sentiments can ring hollow to those of us of limited means when millions are tossed off like chump change, but in the environment of Mortal Bonds that’s just the way the champagne pours. In the end, we modest folk sleep sounder at night than most of the wheelers and dealers in Sears’ book.

There were times that I was so caught up in the action that I could feel my pulse racing along with the words on the page – something that doesn’t happen all that often. I really cared for not only Jason, but many of the characters in this book. The threats felt genuine and the conclusion believable -and smart, and satisfying. When I was taken by surprise it was due to meticulous planning coming to fruition rather than unseen factors saving the day, which I truly appreciated.  All in all, this is a very well crafted, very engaging read.

—Sharon Browning

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