Tag Archives: Russian oligarchs

A funny story by a veteran British playwright and novelist

A review of Skios, by Michael Frayn

@@@ (3 out of 5)

You may have heard of Michael Frayn without remembering his name. The successful British playwright and novelist is best known for the stage plays Noises Off, a frequently produced farce of mistaken identities, and Copenhagen, which portrays a meeting in 1941 between two of the giants of 20th Century physics, Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg, at a time when Heisenberg was thought to be working on an atomic bomb for the Nazi regime.

In Skios, Frayn develops two intersecting stories based on the premise that one protagonist — a philandering nutcase who lives by impulse alone — inhabits the identity of the other, an internationally renowned author and lecturer on the subject of the scientific management of science. The expert is scheduled to deliver a lecture on a Greek island, Skios, to an exclusive audience assembled by a foundation dedicated to the preservation of the highest aspirations of European culture. Need I say that monumental complications ensue both for the expert and for the imposter, not to mention the foundation, its staff, and its guests? Might I add that, by the end of this little book, the body count numbers more than a dozen — and that no reader is likely to miss any of the deceased?

Skios is much closer in character to Noises Off than to Frayn’s more thoughtful work but is much less successful. Frayn’s humor comes through loud and clear — the story is frequently hilarious — but the utter absurdity of the plot unravels at the end, where Frayn lays out not one but two possible endings for the book. (One of them, perhaps the author’s original conclusion, is presented as conjectural. The other is presented as “real.”)

I loved Noises Off. I laughed until I was hoarse. And as a child I read Frayn’s first novel, The Tin Men, and loved that, too. Though I enjoyed Skios enough to finish it, I was disappointed.

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Filed under Humor, Trade Fiction

A refreshingly original new thriller that explores international intrigue with minimal violence

A review of The Silent Oligarch, by Chris Morgan Jones

@@@@ (4 out of 5)

If you imagine today’s Russia to be in the grips of gun-toting mafiyas bound by their own Slavic brand of omerta and competing with Mexican drug cartels to rack up impressive body counts, you’ll be set straight by this thoroughly credible tale of high-level skullduggery based in Moscow and played out in London, Berlin, and the Riviera. In The Silent Oligarch, Chris Morgan Jones’ debut in the world of present-day espionage, you’ll encounter a sophisticated version of intrigue much more reminiscent of John Le Carre than Robert Ludlum.

This finely crafted novel revolves around an obscure Russian bureaucrat named Konstantin Malin, a lifer in the Ministry of Oil and Industry who controls a large share of his country’s oil and gas industry, the world’s largest. His front man is an English expat lawyer in Moscow, Richard Lack, whose Russian wife and child have left him for the less morally ambiguous clime of London. Lack is at the helm of a vast and almost impenetrably complex global network of shadowy enterprises, the sole purpose of which appears to be to launder enormous quantities of Malin’s money and funnel it back to Russia for investment.

Lack’s cozy life in Moscow begins coming apart when a Greek oilman, one of the many wealthy businessmen Malin has cheated, decides to unmask Malin’s fraud and put him out of business. Enter Ben Webster, a former journalist posted to Russia now employed at a significantly higher salary by a private, London-based intelligence agency. As Webster sets out to unravel the real story behind Lack’s role as “owner” of an enormous global energy conglomerate, Lack himself is forced to testify in court in several countries as a result of the Greek tycoon’s lawsuit. The truth begins leaking out, and even the FBI becomes interested in the case.

Tension builds as both Lack and Webster are tormented by their seeming helplessness in the face of the unfolding events, and the suspense never lets up despite minimal violence. The jarring conclusion will surprise all but the most insightful of readers.

This is a book written for readers, not for Hollywood. It’s told in the third person, with chapters alternating between Lack’s and Webster’s perspectives. With scenes set largely in such colorful places — the Kremlin, the Riviera, and luxurious hotels in Berlin and London — a talented screenwriter might manage to fit this twisted tale into the confines of a filmscript, but the interior dialogue that forms the heart of this novel would very likely be lost.

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Filed under Crime Novels, Mysteries & Thrillers