Those who worry about what really goes on behind the scenes in our nation’s capital were not reassured by the dastardly DC string-pullers revealed in Matthew Quirk’s blockbuster debut thriller, The 500. In this sophomore outing, Quirk terrifies us anew with how billions of investor dollars and the US economy hang on a single slip of easily misdirected paper.
“Reformed” con artist, now counselor-at-law Mike Ford returns, using what he learned as a political fixer to help his own more deserving (he hopes) clients. But the tightrope Mike walks between his old life and his new one wobbles right at the start of The Directive as he ditches picking out china patterns with his high-end fiancée at Bergdorf’s so that he can turn the tables on a three-card monte game in a nearby alley. Can he ever really go straight? Or will he use the tricks he learned at his ex-con father’s and older brother’s crooked knees to straighten out what’s wrong in Washington?
With his nuptials impending, Mike decides to make peace with Jack, at least long enough for his hustler brother to serve as his best man. But “best” is truly a relative term in the Ford family. Jack seems to have found a profitable gig as a security consultant—until two well-tailored thugs interrupt the filial reunion. Now a job that Jack has botched is dropped, along with death threats, onto Mike’s plate: intercepting the financial policy directive determined by the Federal Open Market Committee, “the most closely-held secret in capitalism.”
Issued eight times a year, this “playbook for the American economy” goes to the trading desk of the Federal Reserve Bank in New York, where billions of dollars worth of securities may be bought or sold based on its recommendations. And Wall Street holds its breath waiting to learn if interest rates will rise or fall. So, what if you knew, even a few minutes before this information made its way to the trading floors, what the Fed’s decision would be? Cha-ching!
This is Grisham-like territory but for political/financial conspiracy theorists—no less scary for feeling entirely plausible. Even scarier is that Mike’s network of grifters and swindlers seems more honorable than the wheelers and dealers who make and enforce our laws. Whether the brothers can pull off the scam and who is behind the scheme sets the cat-and-mouse trap. Foreshadowing all is the Ford paterfamilias’ motto: “Never play in another man’s game.”
A former magazine journalist for The Alantic, Quirk keeps the who’s-conning-who action engaging. As a policy wonk’s thrill ride, The Directive’s interest rate is sky high.