The King of Fear is the second thriller by Chapman that features Garrett Reilly as the hero. Reilly is an unlikely thriller hero. He is of average build. He is not dramatically handsome. He does not carry a gun. He is extremely intelligent.
Reilly continues to struggle with the effects of a major head injury. He has moved from self-medicating with marijuana to prescription drugs. He is addicted to powerful painkillers. Reilly has reached the point where he is suffering hallucinations. He is dysfunctional in many ways. While I have tired of the dysfunctional hero I am fascinated by Reilly. His dysfunctions balance his brilliance.
He is idling away trading bonds on Wall Street when he receives a phone call from Captain Alexis Truffant, that the President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York City has been murdered and the woman who killed him, moments before committing suicide, said Reilly made her kill him.
Reilly runs from his office minutes before the FBI arrive to arrest him. Leading the FBI investigation is Jayanti Chaudry, the first East Indian female special agent in the New York office. She is an intriguing character as a woman of colour in the dominant white male world of the FBI.
On the run Reilly contacts a fellow computer friend, Mitty Rodriguez and starts looking for a pattern to what is going on. All life is a recognition of patterns for Reilly.
In his mind before the murder there had already been unease about an obscure pattern he he has sensed in the global financial world. Someone is orchestrating small scale financial disasters. Most recently a run has taken place on a bank in Malta that destroys the bank and sends tremors through Europe.
Reilly feels there is a dark pool of billions of dollars being used to finance these attacks:
The tug and warp of invisible money created gravitational ripples, and next would come the visible criminal strike. This was a surefire pattern; Garrett could feel it in his bones. Complicated. Dense. Dark. And coming this way.
He sees a threat developing against America.
Where the United States is obsessed with attacks by Islamist terrorists it should be far more concerned about technological terror. The Islamist physical attacks create intense fear but cannot threaten the nation. Vulnerabilities in America’s financial system are far more dangerous.
Through a skillful use of probabilities Reilly believes that an Eastern European with extensive financial and computer knowledge is coming to America with a plan to create financial havoc and de-stablize the nation’s democratic structure.
A man with a gun, even an atomic bomb, cannot cause as much damage as a man who penetrates America’s financial system.
Truffant follows up Reilly’s profile and determines that Ilya Markov, a Russian with a Chechen background, has just entered the United States. He disappears upon entry.
Markov is just as brilliant as Reilly with tremendous skills in organization and assessing weakness. Reilly calls Markov a great con man.
Who would send such a man to attack the United States? Tendrils stretch back to Russia.
As Markov arrives in America there is turmoil in Belarus where a reformist party seeking to turn the nation to the West is unexpectedly doing well in the election of a new President. Russia is not prepared to see one of its neighbours venture into the Western orbit. Chapman is clearly drawing on Russia’s reaction to the westward drift of the Ukraine for his depiction of Russia’s intervention in Belarus.
Reilly sets out to hunt down Markov before he can carry out his technological onslaught of America’s financial systems.
There are not an abundance of great adversaries in thriller fiction. Often foes have a cartoon level of complexity. Markov is a complex character. While ruthless in his attacks he has carefully considered the nature and consequences of Western capitalism in the 21st Century.
The book is a swiftly paced chase with the FBI after Reilly and Reilly after Markov. The King of Fear rivals The Day of the Jackal for a great quest. For the second Reilly thriller in a row I was up to 2:00 in the morning of a work day unable to resist the pull of the next page.
My unease is that the book is too intelligent to be a bestseller. How many bestsellers contain the following type of passage:
“The global economy is not healthy right now. Government debt is high. Bank exposure to exotic instruments is murky, and their capital requirements are too low. And civil unease is growing across the planet. The worldwide system is not prepared for a true shock. A small virus, a less than lethal flu, can kill a patient with a compromised immune system. To my mind, our system is dangerously compromised.”
Christopher Reich’s later thrillers have been huge sellers with barely two dimensional characters. I worry that a thriller that calls on the reader to think amidst the action is too sophisticated to sell well. I hope I am wrong. Chapman deserves to be known as a great thriller writer.
As the end of the book neared I thought it was headed to a Hollywood finale. It was dramatic but the end startled me as it was not a conventional thriller conclusion. It was unexpectedly totally credible drama.