Warning: this review will contain spoilers of the book!
You may remember that I read Christopher Reich’s Rules of Vengeance a few months ago. Overall, I liked the book, and that is a good summary for my feelings about The First Billion.
So, first a plot summary: the story centers on Jett Gavallan a fighter pilot turned investment firm CEO. His firm made some very successful IPOs but is having financial problems. An upcoming deal with a Russian telecom provider will save the company (since it’s valued so high, his firm stands to earn a ton of money from the deal), but unfortunately for Gavallan, the telecom company and its CEO may not be all that the seem. The story jumps across the world, from San Francisco to Florida to Russia to Switzerland as Gavallan desperately tries to save both his company and his business partner (and best friend) who is in trouble in Russia.
I enjoyed many aspects of the book. It was exciting, I really related to the characters, and I enjoyed learning about all the high-level finance stuff. The descriptions of the various places were excellent – as you can imagine, I particularly enjoyed the Moscow bits.
Now, here is what I didn’t like. There were two main problems with this book: one is a major plot flaw that an editor should have caught and the other would only be noticeable to a slightly obsessive and perfectionist Russian speaker like yours truly.
The plot problem concerned a parallel storyline about an elite group of Russian paramilitary soldiers. At first, I could not figure out what they were doing in the story – and by the end, their storyline was never resolved. They had a super-secret mission to accomplish, but whether they accomplished this or not was never fully resolved. In fact, I think this entire storyline should have been cut from the book (which was quite long at over six hundred pages).
The next problem was with the Russian-speaking characters. Virtually nothing they said in Russian was actually accurate! In the beginning, we have a native-speaking Russian giving a toast by saying Na zdorovye (it ought to be za zdorovye). The Russians in the security service (the FSB, though Reich insists on having them call it the KGB) are always talking about the rodina (Motherland). I’m not saying that Russian agents aren’t patriotic (after all, I’ve never met one, so they very well may be), but their dialogue never rang true for me. It was too over the top and just was not believable. The funniest error, though, occurred at the end of the book, when Kirov, the telecom CEO, says “F*** you” in Russian. Not only does he use a slightly wrong phrase and verb, he uses the formal you! (In Russian, there is an informal and a formal you; needless to say, informal you is used in swearing.)
Despite my paragraph-long complaint, I really did enjoy this book. It just needed more editing. And a Russian consultant. (I would be happy to be a Russian consultant to anyone who is interested, just to put that out there.)
Overall review: three stars out of five.