By DAVID BECKWITH Special to the Citizen
I will honestly admit my initial attraction to Paydown was that it was a novella about the financial services industry where I spent most of my adult life. I had recently read several long and sometimes tedious nonfiction books on topics I sometimes found laborious and was looking for something short and punchy, i.e. a quick, one-session, mind-clearing, swimming-pool read.
For those of you unfamiliar with the novella, a novella is longer than a short story but shorter than a novel. The genre has been around since the Renaissance and is common in Europe. It usually has fewer conflicts than a novel but more than a short story. It is often not divided into chapters but instead uses white space to divide the sections. It very often lacks the subplots and multiple points of view found in longer manuscripts.
Many novellas have become a meaningful addition to our literary heritage. I'm sure you recognize some of these titles - The Call Of The Wild, Of Mice And Men, Animal Farm, A Clockwork Orange, Breakfast At Tiffany's, The Old Man And The Sea, The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde, A Christmas Carol, The Stepford Wives, The Shawshank Redemption and Goodbye Columbus. I could cite many more.
The recently released novella Paydown is a prequel to the popular six-book Leopold Blake series. Stephenson combines murder, mayhem, and mystery with a healthy dose of humor in this series and has been rewarded by consistently hitting the top ten Amazon paid bestseller lists of Crime Thriller Fiction. The books are written so they can be read in any order.
The story's background is the 2008 financial meltdown. Expert criminologist Leopold Blake is drawn into his first ever murder investigation when a high-flying Wall Street investment banker is found brutally killed. At first it appears to be merely a case of fraud, but there is more involved. Now the financial world is on the brink of collapse.
The wealthy Blake has had his differences with NYPD Detective Mary Jordan in the past. Now he must forget these issues and put aside their differences and work with her to find and stop this killer and unravel a crisis far greater than the death of a single man. Blake's catastrophic discoveries strip away much of the glamour of Wall Street. He must then decide how much he is willing to risk to uncover the truth and if the personal price is actually worth it.
As I would expect in the room allowed in a 25,000 word (84 pages) manuscript, Paydown is a straight-ahead crime thriller. It contains a conspiracy, a cunning protagonist, and virtually constant action. The writing style is very direct and dialogue heavy. This helps move the plot along and despite the novella's length, helps develop the story. The ties to the crash of 2008 are very smoothly inserted, making the story relate well to real life. The pace begins a bit slowly but then suddenly picks up before ending abruptly. This is exactly what I would expect from a manuscript of this length.
The protagonist, Leopold Blake, is a brilliant renegade who is willing to bend the rules if necessary to get the desired results. He is sarcastic and funny even in dire situations and often has the ability to rub other people the wrong way. His banter with police detective Mary Jordan keeps the plot from becoming too serious and overly dramatic. Mary Jordan is a reluctant, by the books, law-abiding New York cop. Jerome, Blake's bodyguard, is a consummate professional but can sometimes react overenthusiastically in a crisis. He is, however, always a force to be reckoned with. Overall they are memorable characters.
As I said at the beginning of this piece, Paydown was exactly what I wanted it to be - a fast-paced quick read with a plausible engaging plot. It served its purpose well, and I would not hesitate to check out other books in the series.
David Beckwith is the author of The Hurricane Conspiracy.