Onyx reviews: Restitution by
Anyone who reads the newspapers or watches the news has seen Peter Tyler
before—the arrogant, wealthy former star athlete in an unhappy marriage who
decides that a divorce would be too expensive so he hires someone to murder his
wife and loudly proclaims his innocence.
However, readers of Lee Vance's debut novel Restitution are blessed with
insight the general populace doesn't normally get—Peter is innocent and as
baffled about his wife's murder as the police are.
Peter lives in the stratosphere of Wall Street finance. When he pushes around
pieces of paper, millions of dollars follow. His work takes him regularly to
exotic places like Tokyo, Helsinki and Frankfurt—and away from his wife, Jenna.
Peter and Jenna's relationship was never easy. When they met in college,
Jenna immediately identified him as the kind of person who was "on an
express train headed straight for corporate America and the suburbs…and
thirty-six holes of golf every weekend at the country club"—all the things
she didn't want, in other words. He won her over, but she never seemed
completely comfortable with their fundamental philosophical differences.
She was as devoted to her career as a pro bono lawyer for the underprivileged
as he was to his, which meant they put off having children. Then, when the
timing seemed better, Jenna developed
fertility problems. Peter was always willing to have her try the next great
experimental treatment because he considered the alternative unacceptable. Jenna
has her heart set on adopting a special needs child. Having survived a difficult
childhood—a rigid father who stayed with his alcoholic mother only because of
Peter—he has no desire to take on hardship as a regular component of his family
This standoff defined the status of their relationship when Jenna was
murdered in what appeared to be a staged burglary. The unethical cop leading the
investigation thinks Peter was staying away from home because of the affair
Jenna uncovered—a one-night stand with someone Peter cares deeply about. Vance
doesn't try very hard to keep the identity of Peter's lover secret from his
readers…but Peter doesn't want the police to know who she is, even though it
makes him seem guilty. Guiltier.
Jenna's parents are so convinced that Peter arranged their daughter's murder
that they won't allow him to attend her funeral. The tabloids crucify him. The
negative publicity causes his employers at Klein and Klein to place him on
indefinite leave. His assets are frozen.
Peter's finds himself in a situation similar to that of the main character in
many Hitchcock movies—or Grisham's The Firm: an innocent man who needs to solve
the case on his own to save his life and his reputation, and he needs to do it
fast. The cops—even the reputable ones—have him pegged as the killer and see no
need to investigate further.
The only clue to the identity of the murderers is a package delivered to
Peter's house that is missing after Jenna's death. The package was sent by
Andrei Zhilina, Peter's best friend. Andrei, a lover of the writings of Tolstoy,
works for a financial firm in Moscow, but he seems to have dropped off the face
of the planet. Obsessed by the missing package, Peter travels to Russia to track
down his friend. While he's there, he gets caught up in another mystery. Andrei
has been keeping secret accounting ledgers and is involved with an AIDS clinic run by an
uncooperative American doctor. His covert dealing is eerily reminiscent of the
recent fraud case at the Société Générale Bank in France.
During the course of his amateurish investigation Peter runs afoul of the
Russian mob, the NYPD, Homeland Security and private security for ruthless
financiers. For most of the second half of the novel, Peter is the punching bag
for just about everyone he encounters. The machinations of multinational finance
and pharmaceutical businesses, the threat of biological weapons, forged stock
certificates, and missing Nazi art all compound the mystery. Every time Peter
thinks he's uncovered another piece of the puzzle, the picture changes. Reversal
upon reversal makes for a profoundly satisfying conclusion.
The only part of the story that strains credibility is the latitude the NYPD
afford him. He is allowed to leave the country without restriction, and when he
returns, the police permit him to continue his investigation despite the
mounting number of bodies. One sympathetic police officer isn't enough to
account for this freedom—it is required by the plot, which is never a good
explanation for something incredible.
Peter's only true allies are Katya, Andrei's twin sister, and Tigger, his
former coworker, one of the old guard of financiers who worked his way up
through the ranks without benefit of a business education. Their exchanges form
some of the novel's nicest scenes.
Restitution is a fast-paced thriller—the pace accelerated by the author's use
of the present tense for the contemporary action—but it isn't mindless. For one
thing, Vance is a retired general partner from the Goldman Sachs Group and did
business with their office in Moscow, so he knows a lot about the complexities
of dealing in the former Soviet empire. Over the course of the novel, he doles
out an ample serving of financial lore. The convoluted plot requires close attention and a head for numbers,
but readers who pay close attention will be rewarded with a highly satisfactory
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