Saving Jason by Michael Sears is a fast-paced, contemporary mystery that most readers will find hard to set aside. Sears covers all the bases for the genre in this, his fourth novel. Jason Stafford, his hero, is a wealthy New Yorker with a tragic past. His first wife, a model (of course), was murdered, leaving him to raise their autistic son who carries his father’s name. Stafford himself is an ex-con, having done time for some shady brokerage dealings. He handles his wealth with ease, and upon his release from prison finds himself another model to take up with. She becomes pregnant and he gets on board again with an old boss at Becker Financial who pays him seven figures to poke around and make sure nothing is beginning to smell like trouble in the firm.
Stafford encounters a suspicious aroma, something to do with penny stock, which true to its name, usually sells for less than a dollar a share and is not subject to oversight by the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC). Stafford’s boss, Virgil Becker, is not convinced anything is out of line but gives his super snoop free rein to follow his instincts. Stafford checks in with the firm’s compliance officer to make sure that he is not at cross-purposes with them. The courtesy puts him in the presence of yet another beautiful gal, who despite her svelte looks and manner, is really a tough cookie who runs a tight ship. She’d rather Stafford just stay out of her way.
Stafford, however, is his own agent. Compliance be damned. The trading activity in penny stocks bothers him, although on the surface everything appears completely legit. He quickly discovers that there is more than what meets the eye to the suspicious transactions. Nosing about, he gets chased out of a Long Island pasture by two bull bison, his life threatened by thugs he doesn’t know and stalked by a politically ambitious District Attorney who insists Stafford knows more than he is letting on. Truth is, Stafford doesn’t know all of what’s going on. His investigation is spelling trouble for everyone including Virgil Becker who’s arrest in a sham publicity stunt by the DA but scandalous enough to put Becker Financial in play as a takeover. It’s a perfect storm and Sears orchestrates everything magnificently.
In the middle of everything, Stafford maintains his relationship with his pregnant girlfriend. She’s a physical therapist and a looker that might have a guy consider throwing his back out. Marriage is not in the wind, not with an independent contemporary New York City woman. She helps Stafford care for his seven year old autistic son, and it is the relationship between the father and the son who becomes the soul of the story. Sears is at his best with it. The crusty, cynical exterior to Stafford gives way to a genuinely caring, nurturing father. The son, referred to as “the kid,” is realistically depicted with just the right touch of humor and a large measure of compassion and understanding – and endearing picture of both.
To escape the threats and harassment, Stafford and his son are taken into the witness protection program. They are whisked out the wide open spaces of the southwestern dessert. The plot, complicated as it is, bogs down a bit as this point, or perhaps it’s Stafford’s own boredom at being so far away from the action that makes it feel that the story has come to a standstill. But wait. Whoever wants a piece of Stafford is on to him and his son. They are found in hiding and are forced to move — just what the book needs to keep the story going. And if being charged by bison seems a stretch, or a throttle-to-the-firewall chase of semi-trailer tractors (Stafford had never driven one before), how about a herd of javelinas (forty-pound stubby wild dessert pigs) charging the shooter drawing a bead on Stafford. The little buggers knock the guy down. He misses his shot, and to top it off, the dude breaks his leg in the attack so he can’t continue in pursuit. Javelinas have been known to attack, but the timing on this is too contrived. Sears charges on with detailed machinations that have one hacker genius cause the stock market to drop. It’s fiction, right? The concepts and the terminology are all there, but bank ownership of penny stocks on margin and an artificially induced drop in the market to trigger margin calls? Sorry. (Too much for this retired stock broker.) Authors fail anytime a reader is forced to recognize that a story is fiction
None of the credibility issues matter, however. Why? Because Michael Sears can write. He has Stafford coming off as a well-rounded, completely credible protagonist. Sears’ narrative is fresh, sensitive, full of humor and human understanding and thoroughly engaging. Saving Jason is a very entertaining novel by a writer who has the capacity, talent and the insight to produce a classic. For all of its charm, however, Saving Jason slides under bar rather than forcing it to be raised.
This review first appeared in slightly altered form on the web side bookpleasures.com.
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