The Reluctant Reckoner, a White-Knuckled Financial Thriller by J. Lee

The Bottom Line: Another white-knuckled gem from J. Lee. Financial thriller fans, move The Reluctant Reckoner to the top of your reading list. 

In the years after the death of his wife, career accountant Mark Richter has created a stable life for him and his eight-year-old daughter. They live a quiet life in a Chicago suburb where Mark keeps a tidy and organized home, plays racquetball with the same friend every Friday night, and is obsessive about checking off the detailed task lists he makes for himself. 

But Mark’s entire life is turned upside down when he receives a concise, mysterious email from a stranger:  “Don’t be alarmed. The discrepancy will be cleared up soon.” Mark is baffled by the cryptic message. Minutes later, he’s summoned to his boss’ office, who claims a client’s IRS refund is $320,000 short of what Mark had predicted.

Soon, Mark is confronted by someone claiming to be his “biggest fan.” He seems to know everything about Mark: the size of his donation to the Susan G Komen foundation, his daughter’s age, and yes, the $320,000 “discrepancy” that he takes personal credit for. Next, the duct tape and blindfolds come out, and Mark is taken. His only assurance: “We don’t view you as a threat. If we did, you’d already be dead.”

Author J. Lee, whose novel The Deadly Deal is a Book Awards winner, has a gift for creating compelling leading men. In Mark, he has created a perfect everyman. It’s easy to imagine a Chris Pratt or a young Jimmy Stewart as Mark, well-meaning and sincere in every respect, yet rendered utterly helpless by forces he can’t begin to understand. The effect is intensified when he meets the FBI’s Agent Mitchell, a rough-around-the-edges lawman who informs Mark that his abductors are terrorists responsible for a healthcare center bombing. Rather than give Mark hope with his newfound knowledge, Lee crushes him instead. Mark can’t believe how little power the FBI seems to have to help him, but the harsh realization is the first step to taking his life back. 

The Reluctant Reckoner  simmers throughout as the three-dimensional chess match between the terrorists, the FBI and Mark reaches new levels of intensity. Fans of financial thrillers will relish the numerous schemes that come to light along the way. And in the book’s latter third, Lee demonstrates his gift for white-knuckled action scenes, including a bitter battle for survival in a delightfully unusual setting: a high school wood shop classroom. 

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