The bubble of security many of us rely on for sanity can be pricked in an instant. After that, we see what we're really made of.
Jessica Palmer, the privileged daughter of a Tennessee community banker, has it all. She's been at Vanderbilt University from her undergraduate days through law school, and, on the cusp of graduating, she's looking forward to a good legal job and, in time, a senior position at the family institution, First Palmer Bank. Eventually, she'll run the place.
She enjoys parents whose devotion seems to know no limit. A secret boyfriend to whom she means the world. Money, comfort, safety, and love have never been a problem. Life is very, very good.
But it won't stay that way. Soon she'll be at the mercy of criminals "Brutus" and "Brainiac" and the person pulling their strings...
Only a few pages into The Banker's Greed, Jessica's world shatters. The cracks begin out of nowhere when she is attacked, knocked out with ether, and bound, gagged, and hooded. She becomes a kidnap victim, with a $5 million nonnegotiable price demanded for her safe return. Before the immediate ordeal runs its course, she will fear for her life, with good reason and a bloody example of possibilities oozing its life away nearby.
And before the story ends, she will become the state's key witness against the prime suspect of being the kidnapping's mastermind--her father, bank chairman and CEO Vincent Palmer.
FBI agents who believe they've solved her case will call her sanity into question, even wonder if she has developed "Stockholm Syndrome," where victims come to identify with their abductors. This comes after her call, before the packed courtroom, as sentencing is passed, that her father is innocent. She has had an eleventh-hour epiphany, but no one wants to believe her new story, even more unbelievable than the combination of facts and coincidences that send Vincent Palmer to prison.
Three of the closest people in her life will appear to have irrevocably betrayed her when she needed them most. An ugliness that she never suspected surfaces very close to home.
In the end, the only individuals she'll be sure she can count on are Abby, her Golden Retriever, and Heddy, the family housekeeper.
But having had her security torn away, she will find determination and strength as she sets out on the nearly impossible challenge of proving her father innocent.
The Banker's Greed--you won't know the significance of the title until the very last line of the book, and don't peek--resulted from the teaming up of two unlikely parties: a veteran mystery and suspense writer, P.M. Terrell, and T. Randy Stevens, chairman and CEO at First Farmers and Merchants Bank, a $1 billion-assets institution in central Tennessee. (Stevens' debut as a co-author is the subject of the August "First Person" profile in ABA Banking Journal. The profile describes the origin of the story and how it developed into the commercially published book.)
When the reader first meets Vincent Palmer, who Stevens says was wholly fiction, he embodies the phrase "full of himself," and exudes the expectation of privilege and power that rubs you the wrong way immediately. On his way to the abduction scene at illegal speeds, he ignores a state trooper with the declaration that he has no time for his nonsense--indeed, he demands a trooper escort to the scene. Any time someone crosses him or doesn't follow his wishes, he threatens with any of number of political leaders on his cell phone's speed dial.
Clearly, he seems just ruthless enough to attempt a crime, and his inclination to take charge and not cooperate with the FBI and other enforcement agencies makes his actions suspicious from the get-go. The reader soon concludes that his apparent devotion to his daughter likely is only a heck of an act, and yet...
By the time that undeniable signs indicate that Palmer is working with the kidnappers, the reader has been shown a parade of clues that make it all too believable.
And an FBI agent working the case puts the attitude that develops into a handful of words: "I just have this thing about men who think rules don't apply to them. Who think they're above the law."
Throughout the buildup to Palmer's conviction, details sprinkled here and there add realism to the story's banking elements and to its law enforcement elements. Little touches like a bank souvenir mug; etiquette and protocol inside a bank headquarters; even a door in a certain location in a bank, and why it's there, will ring true to anyone who works for a community bank. There's even a bank gift program involving disposable cell phones that plays a critical part in a plot twist, as does a late glimpse into the workaday world of signature card files and safe deposit vault security measures.
All these touches add enjoyment and a touch of reality to a gripping suspense story.
Proving Palmer innocent
P.M. Terrell built on Stevens' original story, but The Banker's Greed is much more than a skilled rewrite. As the "First Person" profile explains, the project was very much a cooperative venture.
The result is a story that keeps you on the edge of your seat during the kidnapping and investigative sequences. Short chapters, many ending on cliffhangers, keep pulling the reader along. A blend of mental and physical suspense builds to a conclusion that shifts at the final moment of this section, from the apparently justly deserved conviction of a man of seemingly questionable morals to complete upheaval when Jessica Palmer shouts in the courtroom:
"No! He's innocent! My Daddy is innocent!"
For Jessica, days of sleuthing on her own follow, all while the new life she had made for herself, to replace her shattered life, begins to unravel.
"You need help, Jessie, but not the kind of help I can provide," says Grant Bailey, the troubled FBI agent who put her father away. "You need a good psychiatrist. Somebody to help you get your life back together. Someone who can help you get inside your own head."
She graduates from glasses of wine to bottles. She is soon left nearly on her own, doubted and despondent, and finds the whole truth only after an evening of danger, deception, and murder.
The book sends out its share of red herrings, while giving a fair number of clues for those mystery readers who like to try to solve the crime before the detective does. But rather than beginning on the quintessential "dark and stormy night," it ends on one.
Amid the lightning, thunder, water, and mud--and blood-- Jessica Palmer finds the truth, if she can live with it, and through it.
In the authors’ words
Prime suspect Vincent Palmer, bank CEO: “Of course I have enemies. All bankers have them,” Vincent stated flatly. … “When we don’t make a loan, a customer may go broke. Or maybe we’ve given them a loan and they’ve defaulted. They lose their business; sometimes they lose their spouse and family; sometimes their house and their car. … the list goes on. Sometimes they blame themselves and sometimes they blame the bank. It’s a whole lot easier to blame the bank.
”FBI agent Grant Bailey to U.S. Attorney Jim Rye: “The morning after his daughter was abducted--hours after he paid the ransom, he accessed the bank deposit box. … And this is what we found in it. … Two point five million dollars. Cash.” —by P.M. Terrell and T. Randy Stevens
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