Mortal Bonds
PublisherGerald Duckworth & Co Ltd
Date Published17 July 2014
Price£ 12.99

Mortal Bonds

by Michael Sears

Jason Stafford is recruited by the family of a hugely wealthy fraudster who has just died in prison. His accounts just don’t seem to make sense and his family is convinced that a vast amount of money has been hidden away. Jason’s task is to locate it.


Recently deceased William Von Becker was head of one of the largest privately-held investment banks in North America, with branch offices on four continents. It dealt with funds running into hundreds of billion of dollars and the size of the returns to investors made it hugely successful – or at least apparently so – until it turned out to be a ponzi scheme. Ponzi schemes, by their very nature, are bound to be discovered sooner or later and Von Becker eventually found himself in jail where, according to the official report, he committed suicide.
That is by no means the end of the affair, however, because Becker’s children and heirs, James, Virgil, Wyatt and Morgan – rather quaintly named after the Earp brothers – are convinced that much of the money is unaccounted for.

Jason Stafford is asked to track it down – a commission he is happy to accept when offered a lifelong consultancy with the firm, worth a million dollars a year, if successful. He himself has been in jail as a result of financial irregularities when he was a Wall Street trader. Because of that he is now quite unemployable in the only business he knows and has to take on work that may be of a doubtful nature.
One of the problems the general reader faces in a novel dealing with high finance of this nature is the sheer complexity of modern banking and investment. The description of the bond market and in particular of the function of bearer bonds and their uses is complex and could have been tedious, but the author tells us just as much as we need to know. Moreover, he does it with a light touch and a sense of humour that is always appealing.

The first part of the novel, which involves Stafford’s search for witnesses or key players in the story, is rather slow, though the tension does mount as he gets closer to the truth. If there is a slight criticism of this part of the book it is that Stafford always seems to be able to get in touch with somebody who can point him in the right direction. This is, perhaps, understandable when his wide experience of the financial word is taken into account, but occasionally it is just a little too convenient.
It isn’t giving away too much information to say that Stafford eventually locates the money and it is from this point on that the novel takes a different turn and the leisurely approach becomes a high speed, breathless thriller as the various bad guys target him. There is one specific incident that leaves the reader feeling shocked.

It has to be said, however, that there is something almost James Bondian about Stafford’s knack of escaping from various life-threatening situations, even where the circumstances take him by surprise. More often than not, however, he has anticipated and planned his moves in advance. But, whatever the minor reservations, this second part of the book keeps the reader turning the pages.
It isn’t possible to write a review of this book without reference to Stafford's six-year-old son – aka 'the kid', autistic, obsessed by toy cars and a creature of total habit. Stafford is looking after him because his wife, Angie, from whom he is now separated, has proved herself quite unfit to do so. Even though his presence adds some human interest to what is after all a story entirely about money, it is a little unsettling to find the plot halting on occasions because of the demands of the boy. Nor is it entirely necessary because there are characters – his father, Roger and Skeli – all of whom take little or no part in the main narrative, but who bring a kind of warmth to a very modern story of Mammon. Skeli in particular clearly understands Stafford and may, we feel, be his ultimate means of salvation, not to mention his (and the kid’s) happiness.

Reviewed 21 March 2015 by Arnold Taylor