News Column

'Black Fridays,' an Intriguing Look at Greed and Autism

Oct. 3 2012

Oline H. Cogdill

While the economy appears to be, we hope, rebounding, the financial thrillers thrive, illustrating how lives are devastated by careless greed. And greed, as we all know, never goes out of style, despite the economy.

Michael Sears, who spent more than 20 years on Wall Street, delivers a thoughtful, intricate cautionary tale in his impressive debut about greed, mismanaged money and the thrill that the unscrupulous get from cheating the unsuspecting. But "Black Fridays' also works well as an excellent character study about a man coming to terms with his own limitations and trying to be a good father to a difficult, special-needs child.

Wall Street hotshot Jason Stafford never started out to be a criminal. A simple accounting error snowballed into a felony when his portfolio lost more than $500 million. Jason lost his career and spent two years in prison. "I was the first alumnus from my MBA class to make Managing Director. I was also the first, as far as I know, to go to prison."

But Jason didn't lose his soul or his sense of humor to either Wall Street or the prison system. Although he can't legally handle accounts, Jason can take a two-week consulting job examining the trading records of a young broker who recently died in a mysterious boating accident. The high pay will help him regain custody of his 5-year-old autistic son from his alcoholic ex-wife who prefers to lock the boy away in his room.

But the consulting job isn't simple as Jason finds too many discrepancies among several traders' work and resistance from brokers who see him as an unscrupulous ex-con. During the day, Jason must wade through a sea of arrogance, cover-ups and volatile personalities willing to kill to protect themselves. At night, Jason cares for his son whose behavior problems stems from neglect as well as his autism.

Sears does a first-rate job in "Black Fridays" juggling the complex plot, explaining the financial markets so a novice can understand the intricacies but also appealing to the sophisticated reader. Sears shows how a broker can become intoxicated with each aspect of trading. "Money moving quickly," says Jason. "A drug that, once ingested, doesn't ever leave your system."

Sears also perfectly captures the challenges of an autistic child, showing that the syndrome has a wide arc that varies from each person.

"Black Fridays" is an intriguing debut from an exciting new talent.

"Black Fridays" by Michael Sears; Putnam ($25.95)

Source: (c)2012 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) Distributed by Mclatchy-Tribune News Service.

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