The cover of my Kindle edition of Game of Greed by Charlotte Larsen describes this novel as a Francis Scott-Wren Crime Thriller. True, Francis Scott-Wren is the main character, the head of one powerful business organization with a mission to at least attenuate the greed and corruption of predatory business entities with a disregard for humanitarian concerns. True, he is unbelievably wealthy due to inheritance and he is willing to spend unbelievable amounts on his self-declared mission. And he has built up an intelligence organization that rivals those of many governments through the time-tested strategy of hiring disaffected employees from those same government agencies. As a leader of such an organization, it seems to follow that Francis will assume the façade of a dilettante playboy and womanizer while still maintaining a heart that is pure. Some might think this could lead to a split personality resembling schizophrenia but there is the controlling element of a pure heart. Then there are ninjas, but we may come back to that.
Although Francis is a well-developed character, he is far eclipsed by Josefine (Jo)Vermeer. A Western woman, think Copenhagen, living in a monastery in Sri Lanka is just bound to steal my reader interest. It is not just that I am fascinated by Western women living in monasteries, a normal fantasy for many guys. No, I am fascinated by female characters assimilating into cultures, such as the patriarchal society found in a Sri Lankan monastery who manage to whine so constantly about their treatment that they become misandrists. Despite the annoying and repetitive gripes, Jo is the most entertaining character of this novel. She is an employee, friend, and lover of Francis. Her interior monologues as she goes through various levels of meditation in search of perfect peace are thought-provoking for the reader. Larsen’s descriptions of the monastery and its environs are beautiful. Her descriptions of attempts to find enlightenment by primarily Jo, but also Francis and Dhammakarati, a monk who works for Francis and can slip between Western and Eastern cultures, is thoughtful and beautifully written. Occasionally a sentiment expressed seems to get lost in a vocabulary jungle, but the examples are infrequent. My favorite example of the jungle describes Jo’s feelings when she is visiting her hometown:
“Life is reduced to the lowest common denominator, as if the town itself tried to compensate for the appalling lack of human aspirations in this grotesque way as if the God that few citizens still remember from their childhoods is a huge, masculine being determined to patronize the people who didn’t manage to escape the small city.” (p. 52). Whew!
This is a novel of conflict between good, evil, and all the shades of those two opposite values in between. It is the “shades” part which is interesting. Can one do evil to produce good? Francis begins the novel as a self-confident figure who believes in a binary answer but begins to have doubts as events unfold. Jo and Dhammakarati have a similar journey. Only George Schwartz seems solidly evil, but we will see Francis doubt even that at times.
I find the story of struggles among characters of unlimited wealth and resources off-putting. I can not identify with them. No one travels in anything less than first class. Jo never has to worry about problems with baggage claim because she never has any. She has carry-on luggage only and just shops at airport and hotel shops for all her clothing and personal needs. She doesn’t even carry a laptop computer on an airplane because Francis, anticipating her every need, has stewardesses (also known as flight attendants) deliver a laptop to her with preplanned operational plans. After using the computer, Jo deletes everything and, for security purposes, abandons the computer under a nearby seat, confident that no one finding it would be able to use it. So much for environmental concerns.
This novel reminded me of a battle between superheroes except instead of superpowers they had super money. Think of Warren Buffet in a cape fighting Elon Musk. There is also language and phrasing that I believe is too high-flown and over-the-top. Examples:
From Dhammakarati: “Early on, he vowed not only to provide his parents with an easier life, but to fight the corruption, the greed, and the evil of the ruling classes.” (p.89).
From Jo: “… Businesses … have been in the way of somebody else who had the desire and money to pull the plug on the competition. She finds this kind of dirty play to be abominable. If you can’t play fair, you shouldn’t be in the game. In any game, really.” (p.105).
From Francis: “That is our part in the game: Schwartz destroys; we protect. And to that end, I am willing to go very far. But not murder. Or violence. Besides, there are far worse fates than death. And I have pledged myself and this organization,” his arms sweep the room, “to using wits over violence any time, to outsmart, outmanoeuvre, out-tactic anybody who is not playing the game in a decent way. I’ll come after anyone who ruins for greed and avarice. I’ll hunt down the last person who steals a coin from the poor but I will not murder an individual when a large and very significant organization may come tumbling down if we’re only smart enough.” (p. 283-284).
I find this last an excellent example of the general tone of the novel. There should be fairness in the world. Evil deserves punishment but not termination. That will pretty much put an end to wars. Nice to believe, but it is a fantasy. And incredibly naïve in a real world or even in the one of chaos we experience today.
However, with all the seemingly negative things I mentioned. I liked the story and found the character development fascinating and unexpected. I can enjoy fantasy without becoming a devotee of it. And I don’t mind reading it for “free” with Kindle Unlimited. I gave this novel four Amazon stars and if there is another Francis Scott-Wren Crime Thriller, I will read it.