cover image Wall and Mean

Wall and Mean

Thomas Bernard, . . Norton, $24.95 (255pp) ISBN 978-0-393-06482-7

George Wilhelm gets his kicks from sex, bond trading and gambling in this promising debut, which mixes those volatile elements with Tarantino-style violence. In 1993, George, a rookie Wall Street trader, is trying to make his mark in the cutthroat emerging markets funds. If the financial jargon Bernard uses is arcane, the frenetic pace and high-stakes maneuvers still emerge clearly. When paper success (low salary but prospects for high bonuses) goes to George's head, he ups his bets on sporting events to levels that leave him facing financial disaster. Suddenly, he's in over his head with a pair of sadistic debt collectors, who get their best ideas from movies like Reservoir Dogs . George is forced to concoct a scheme that will keep his bosses from learning about his problems and earn enough money to get him out of the jam. Bernard, himself a former bond trader, keeps upping the ante as his hero's choices get more and more desperate. George's transformation from brash risk-taking gambler and lover of the high life to gritty survivor is well done, but the rather saccharine ending isn't terribly convincing. (May)