Written by Alan Glynn — Graveland is the final instalment in Alan Glynn’s loose trilogy of critically acclaimed thrillers charting the intersection of crime and big business. A few old faces make a return but the real link between the books is a mood of mistrust and cynicism, as well as a desire to lay bare the corrupting power of wealth. Bloodland (2009) and the follow-up Winterland (2011) were hugely successful and thought provoking novels, with the kind of ripped-from-the-headlines plots which made you look afresh at the news. Graveland is the most timely yet, centred on the financial crash, set among the men who made it happen and the ones who became collateral damage.
Graveland opens with the apparently random shooting of a jogger in Central Park. Not a particularly surprising event, except the dead man is the CEO of a major Wall Street investment bank, and his murder is swiftly followed by the execution of a big shot hedge fund manager on the street outside a swanky uptown restaurant. Is it sheer coincidence that two financial fat cats are murdered in close proximity? Or is this an act of terrorism, designed to strike at the corrupt heart of the money business? Investigative journalist Ellen Dorsey suspects the latter. She’s slogging through a series of articles on presidential candidates for the struggling Parallax magazine, a dinosaur lumbering towards extinction in the age of new media, and she scents a potentially rewarding distraction in the murders.
Across town Frank Bishop is slowly falling prey to the quiet despair of a talented man in reduced circumstances. Once a well-regarded architect at a prestigious firm, he now finds himself stuck in a dead end job, working in a computer store in a fading mall. The cause of his circumstances: the financial crash which necessitated lay-offs at his old company. His marriage has failed and his high-flying wife has moved on to someone more dynamic. His daughter is away at college, distant from him physically and emotionally. And, on top of everything else she has stopped answering her phone.
As Frank slowly realises there’s something amiss and goes to look for his daughter, Ellen Dorsey is trawling the shadowy world of internet forums, chasing down a lead on the protest movement which she believes is linked to the murders. The ramifications of those deaths are shaking the financial world, but the business keeps running. There’s always someone to fill a dead man’s boots. Power shifts are occurring at the highest level of Oberon Capital, an aging power-player preparing to step aside, while the trophy wife of an investment banker is on trial for his murder. It’s a web of intrigue as complex as the most creative financial instruments and Glynn handles it with aplomb.
Graveland is very much a thriller of the times, exploring not only the way high finance works but also how the internet functions within the protest movement and, allied to this, the changes taking place within the media. Glynn is excellent on the how Wall Street’s machinations have impacted on Main Street. Frank Bishop is an everyday American, adrift and incapable of finding a way out of the new world the crash has dumped him into. Both he and Ellen Dorsey are characters you can root for and they bring a necessary humanity to the book. This a sleek, cool thriller, a genuine page-turner but it’s more than airport fodder. In common with Glynn’s other books Graveland has something important to show us and in future years it will stand as the crime novel which unpacked the effects of the financial crisis.
Faber & Faber
CFL Rating: 5 Stars