When I first heard about the new novel from Adam Gittlin, The Deal, I thought it had an interesting hook: big time commercial real estate in New York City. Seemed like an interesting backdrop to a thriller. That turned out to be true, but the heart of The Deal isn’t real estate but trust and priorities. Who can you trust and what is most important to you.
The Deal is an fast paced thriller with an interesting setting and a creative twisting plot. But I will confess that the main character turned me off and this hampered my enjoyment of the book.
Here is the publishers tease that sets up the plot:
Everything about Jonah Gray screams success movie-star good looks, expensive clothes, a Park Avenue penthouse, and a seven-figure income. A cutthroat, rainmaking New York city commercial real estate broker, Jonah craves opulence and power. He beds models, romps the globe on the weekends and sees the world as his for the taking. Jonah Gray has it all. Or at least he had it all.
When a friend presents Jonah with the deal of a lifetime, Jonah jumps at the chance. All Jonah has to do is act quickly, invest half a billion dollars in prime NY office buildings, and collect a huge payoff.
But this golden opportunity is anything but. Within days of signing on, Jonah is mysteriously thrust into the epicenter of an international and personal scandal.
Forced to explore a whole new territory where he can trust no one, and where danger, death and deception lurk at every corner, Jonah will learn some painfully hard lessons about the quest for easy money.
Closing this deal could mean losing everything.
The commercial real estate business in New York provides the setting for the novel and it also helps introduce us to the central character Jonah Gray. Jonah not only works in the business but grew up around it as his father is a mover and shaker in the same field. Jonah’s life and career is centered on this world. And a central aspect of the plot is focused on a real estate deal.
But once the plot really picks up steam the real estate aspect begins to fade away. At this point the traditional thriller aspects take over and the setting is just background. In some ways this is natural, and the setting provides a creative way to kick the plot off. But the author, who works in the business, also spends time having the character talk shop in ways that cause the plot to drag and may not interest readers.
I realize there is a fine line between a realistic setting and too much background, and the shop talk involved wasn’t that distracting, but Gittlin might find the industry more fascinating than the average reader. For me, the book took a while to really get in a rhythm. Once it hit its stride it was a fast paced story and quick read, but it dragged a bit in setting the stage.
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What really hampered my enjoyment of the book, however, was the main character Jonah. Jonah is an arrogant, narcissistic, jerk who depends on alcohol and drugs to keep him moving. He is consumed with making money and with showing his own wealth and power off in ostentatious ways whenever he gets the chance.
Gittlin in many ways set Jonah up this way so that when his life comes crashing down around him he will be forced to think about what really matters. Fine, but this doesn’t change the fact that the character is a major league jerk. Maybe this is my Midwestern perspective coming through, but I grew tired of Jonah’s constant descriptions of the accoutrement’s of wealth and privilege and of his drug fueled drive for power and wealth.
As with the real estate aspect, much of this tone and style faded when the plot kicked in to second gear. But I found myself tired of Jonah over the first third of the book. Circumstances may force Jonah to think about what really matters in his life but he still ends the book unwilling to face the consequences of his actions or take responsibility for the destruction he has caused. He may care more about the people in his life but still comes off as an amoral spoiled brat. The entire story seemed almost unconcerned with concepts of right or wrong and Jonah reflects this perspective and seems to endorse it.
But I will fully admit I may be in the minority on this one. If you don’t mind this kind of central character, The Deal is an entertaining thriller – particularly after the central plot twist is revealed. The twists in the plot effectively intertwine Jonah’s personal and professional lives and ratchets up the tension. There are enough questions and mysteries involved to keep the reader off balance and guessing about how it is going to play out.
All in all The Deal is a competent thriller with a unique setting and main character. If you have an interest in high stakes commercial real estate or the powerful personalities who thrive in that environment you will enjoy it.