“They harbor the largest network of wealthy expatriate fugitives in the world, changing their identifies, laundering their assets, helping them purchase property in impenetrable safe havens.”
Who are “they”? “They” are Flamingo Enterprises of Grand Cayman Island. And in Flamingo Coast (Rare Bird Books), the new thriller by Martin Jay Weiss, they are harboring Max Culpepper, a criminal hedge fund manager who – out on bail in Manhattan, awaiting trial – has escaped. Escaped and is being hunted by former IRS special agent Jennifer Morton.
Why “former?” Because while Jennifer got the evidence that led to Culpepper’s arrest and indictment, when she was interviewed on TV she appeared not to care if she got that evidence illegally. So the IRS has fired her.
Jennifer wants revenge on Culpepper – and she’s
FinCEN, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, a bureau of the U.S. Treasury Department, also wants to nail Culpepper. To do it, Roberta Coscarello of FinCEN is sending Jennifer undercover to Grand Cayman. Jennifer’s new identity: a very wealthy girl named Eloise Concord whose death (in a crashed Maserati) FinCEN has hushed up.
Jennifer is a civil servant who lives in a grungy walk-up and has always dressed in the proper business suits. Now she practices every nuance of “careless, indulgent, spoiled” Eloise “from her upper-crust Boston accent to her low-cut dresses and tops.”
But it’s not just this skill (and cutting her hair and bleaching it blonde) that could help Jennifer pass as the dead girl. The two have something in common: Eloise deeply resented her now-dead father for everything he stood for…and that’s exactly how Jennifer feels about her own father, who died in a boating accident.
Roberta Coscarello gives Jennifer a large Louis Vuitton suitcase holding “an eye-popping assortment of party girl accessories” and stacks of cash. Also, Eloise’s rose gold Sky Dweller Rolex. In closing Roberta tells Jennifer “If you get caught, we never met.”
Thus equipped and thus warned, Jennifer goes to Grand Cayman…and plunges into another world. As Eloise Concord, she mixes with the expatriates of Club Flamingo, the “kings and queens of fraud…emboldened, entitled, debauched, indulgent and dissolute.”
But mixing doesn’t get Jennifer access. What will? Buying property through Flamingo, becoming a Flamingo. To achieve this ambition, Jennifer wants a meeting with the head of Flamingo Properties, Jack Martin. It doesn’t hurt that Jack is young, tall, dark and handsome.
As Eloise, Jennifer gets a meeting. And, in Jack’s office, when he steps out for a moment, she takes a chance, goes into his safe and – just before Jack walks back in – learns Culpepper’s new identity.
Meanwhile, Marshall Shore, the “puppet master” of Flamingo Enterprises, is briefed about Eloise Concord by the two men who are rivals to succeed him: Jack and Dex Boonyai, head of Flamingo security.
Jennifer gets to meet Shore. In his office in the Flamingo Enterprises headquarters building (“she thought it made Fort Knox look like a yurt”), once again she eyes a safe and wonders how she could get inside it.
The more Jennifer digs via her undercover identity, the more the stakes mount.
In Flamingo Coast, author Weiss tells us that “Spy work is 90 percent boredom and 10 percent terror.” This tale, however, is 100 percent pulse-pounding excitement.
For more insights into the book and the author, Weiss recently sat down with BookTrib partner The Big Thrill for a Q&A. Here are some excerpts from that interview:
Do you consider Flamingo Coast to be a financial thriller?
Definitely. It dramatizes how financial crimes manifest, how government watchdogs combat them, and what can happen when law enforcement abuses its power in the name of justice. The tagline on the book cover comes from something the heroine’s father told her when she was young: “When it comes to money, people will do unthinkable things…”
When thrillers are written that don’t include knives, guns, or bombs, what was it like to research the financial and tax intricacies that it took to write the book?
The research I did about financial crimes was much more difficult. It’s hard to get people to talk for fear of exposing the innocent, the guilty or themselves. But some did talk to me. Most of the details I describe in the book about tax evasion and how people hide their money offshore came from confidential interviews with people who know how it’s done. And it’s done a lot, to the tune of seven trillion dollars, according to an IMF estimate. I also did a lot of research on government agencies that combat financial crimes. Some of their tactics are shocking. I based one of the subplots on a real IRS and CIA investigation to show a parallel to current offshore banking issues.
Tell us about the book’s main character, Special Agent Jennifer Morton. What do you like about her? What keeps her human?
Jennifer Morton is clever as a fox and unabashedly aggressive when she goes after her suspects. She thinks of herself as the James Bond of financial crimes, and she has no issue breaking search and seizure protocol to prove her targets are guilty. The end justifies the means. She can be standoffish and sanctimonious too, which has crippled her personal life, but she has good reason to be skittish, which is revealed later in the story. She shows the depth of her courage when she confronts her past, learns the truth about her greatest betrayal and has to choose between revenge and redemption.
Considering the world we live in today, especially where the IRS is concerned, did you find it challenging to make an IRS special investigator likable or compelling?
In the first draft, Jennifer Morton was Geoffrey Morton, a male protagonist. Making her female was an idea that came from some producers who are interested in making Flamingo Coast into a movie. I resisted the change at first, but when I tried it, the story became much more interesting. Maybe it was because such aggressive traits on a female are more unusual.
What’s one piece of advice that has served you well since you started writing thrillers?
I really believe in the 10,000-hour rule, the amount of time it takes to learn any craft. Learning to write well takes years. My advice would be to read a lot and write every day. It’s all about discipline and persistence. Read, write, repeat.
Flamingo Coast will be available to purchase Jan. 15, 2019.
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ABOUT MARTIN JAY WEISS:
Martin Jay Weiss is an award-winning filmmaker who has written, directed and produced a vast anthology of commercials, films, and television projects. He has a BS in Journalism from the University of Illinois and an MFA in Film from New York University. Born and raised in Chicago, he now lives in California with his wife and two children. His next novel, Flamingo Coast, is forthcoming from Rare Bird Books in 2019. Visit https://martinjayweiss.com.