A Fatal Debt

A Fatal Debt

by John Gapper

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Overview

This timely debut thriller by an award-winning Financial Times columnist is a gripping tale of lethal intrigue set in the high-stakes Wall Street world—where wealth and privilege are no match for jealousy and betrayal.
 
Ben Cowper, an attending psychiatrist at the prestigious New York–Episcopal Hospital, is stunned to learn the identity of the emergency patient he’s just been assigned to treat: Harry Shapiro, a Wall Street colossus and one of Episcopal’s most prominent donors. But a high-profile reversal of fortune has left the once powerful investment banker jobless, bitter, and possibly desperate—judging by the handgun his wife finds him clutching. In Ben’s expert opinion, Shapiro is a suicide waiting to happen. But when the headstrong financier balks at an extended stay in the hospital psych ward, Ben reluctantly releases him, bowing to political pressure from Episcopal’s chief administrator, who’s more concerned with the patient’s money than his mind.
 
Days later, the shocking news breaks: There’s been a shooting death in Harry Shapiro’s Hamptons mansion. But even more shocking is the identity of the victim. A tragedy sets in motion an explosive chain of events that turns Ben Cowper’s life upside-down.
 
As hard-nosed cops close in with harder questions, the hospital closes ranks to protect its own interests. But with colleagues freezing Ben out, innocent circumstances conspire to incriminate him. Hounded by a DA who’s out for blood, and haunted by the specter of a shattered career, Ben has no choice: He must delve into the hearts and minds of the people who know Harry best, uncover the secrets they’d rather die—or kill—to keep, and expose the truth behind a web of malice disguised as madness.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345527912
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/26/2012
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 191,034
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

John Gapper is chief business columnist and an associate editor of the Financial Times, based in New York. He also has a blog on which he comments on business news. He holds a bachelor of arts degree from Exeter College, Oxford University, and won a Harkness Fellowship to study at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He is author of All That Glitters, a book about the collapse of Barings Bank in 1995, and How to Be a Rogue Trader. A former New Yorker, he lives in London with his wife and two daughters.


From the Hardcover edition.

Read an Excerpt

1  New York City has a light of its own, a dazzling glare that is utterly unlike the soft, cloud-­strewn summers where I grew up. I once found its intensity disturbing, like the city’s, but I miss it now. It was glowing on that May morning as I stepped from my apartment building. Sun shone on the budding leaves in Gramercy Park and illuminated the Art Deco gargoyles of the Chrysler Building in the distance along Lexington Avenue.

My gym was nearby, a box with windows on one corner of Irving Place, filled day and night with New Yorkers pounding on long lines of running machines. Some watched monitors and wore earpieces, cords dangling from their ears and swinging in time with the rhythm of their runs. It was a Sunday at the end of a surreal, stressful week—­one filled with fraught events that I hoped had been resolved. I walked slowly, trying to relax, letting those events filter into my subconscious.

Two men were playing chess on the sidewalk as I passed. They were both slim and scraggy with thinning hair, and one had a trimmed white beard. As they played, they kvetched about the state of the city, the rise in subway fares, and gentrification on the Bowery. The one playing black prodded a knight forward at the white king, and as he released the piece, the other swooped his queen across and seized a rook with two fingers. The clack of the white queen’s base being slammed on the board echoed across the street.

“Ach,” Black tutted to himself.

“You didn’t see that?” White cried.

The first ten minutes on the treadmill when I reached the gym were painful—­my muscles creaked, my throat burned. At about the fifteen-­minute mark, the urge to stop was succeeded by a state of boredom, and my thoughts drifted. I always felt this moment, before I started the countdown to the end, when the experience became soothing. As that small but pleasurable window opened, I glanced over the monitor tuned to Fox News on a nearby machine.

Then I jabbed at the red “Stop” button.

The screen revealed a live feed from a news helicopter—­the image of a police chase or maybe a crime in progress. The camera shuddered as it circled, but the scene was clear enough: Harry Shapiro’s house in East Hampton. There was the lawn by the dunes, the blue pool, the squares and circles of the cedar-­shingled roof, the chairs on which we had sat. The seats were vacant and no one was in sight—­only house, lawn, dune, beach, and black-­and-­white vehicles jamming the drive. His Range Rover was parked by the house, apart from the melee.

“You using this machine, man?” someone asked me from my left. Without noticing, I had climbed off my own and drifted toward the screen.

“No,” I said. “Go ahead.” Other channels were showing the same image, but I tuned to Fox, with its red banner at the bottom of the screen: Death in the Hamptons. The news anchors, when I put on the headphones hanging on the machine, were talking excitedly but not making much sense, as if in the grip of mania.

“We’re going to Bruce Bradley,” said a woman’s voice, “who is at the scene. Bruce, what can you tell us?”

The shot cut to a man with a blue blazer and a bland face, standing at the entrance to the lane where Harry lived and looking professionally grave. In the distance I could see the low, misty outline of Harry’s guesthouse.

“Melissa, I’m in East Hampton, the Long Island beach town known as a retreat of the wealthy,” he said sonorously. “Detectives were called to a house down this lane last night, where they found a body, I’m told.”

The woman anchor started to ask something, but a man’s voice cut over her. “Bruce, this is Jack. Can you tell us the identity of the victim?”

“The police are not saying, but my sources tell me that the deceased is a banker who was well known on Wall Street.”

“Jesus,” I said—­loudly, because of the headphones. A woman on a machine nearby looked over at me reprovingly. “Sorry,” I said, holding up one hand. It was shaking from the rush of fear as I put it on the handrail.

For weeks afterward, that anxious feeling of the world breaking up around me was never far away; even now, whenever I’m in New York, a quick glimpse of Fox News can make my heart rattle. It was more than the threat to my livelihood: it was a sense of being wrenched from the frame I had around me, the detachment I had built from other people with all their disordered emotions. Love. Jealousy. Despair.

Hatred.

After pulling off the headphones, I stepped down from the machine and started to walk back to the changing rooms. Near the door to the workout room, I was hit by a wave of dizziness and sat down to place my head between my knees. I didn’t need to watch any more: I already knew what had happened. Harry Shapiro had killed himself. I also knew, with absolute certainty, that I was to blame.

When Rebecca was on duty, she would sometimes return home in the early hours and sit silently in the kitchen before coming to bed. I’d know then that a patient had died on the operating table. We shrinks don’t lose many patients, so we never get used to it in the way that a surgeon must. Patients of mine had killed themselves before, but, unhappy as it made me, I’d never believed it was my fault. They’d been in a chronic condition, had been battling their death wish for a long time, and I’d done all that I could to help.

Harry was different. I’d known he was in danger, and I’d let him die. I’d allowed myself to be bullied and bribed into failing him.

My head was still between my knees, but saliva had stopped running in my mouth and I could feel the dizziness starting to ease. I raised my head to see a gym trainer looking at me with concern, thinking that I must have overdone it on the machines. I grimaced at him as if he were correct, got up, and grabbed a towel. Then I went to the showers and stood under one for a long time.

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A Fatal Debt: A Novel 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
ABookAWeekES More than 1 year ago
The crash of the Wall Street Market ushered in a new era of consciousness of the wrongdoings of those running the U.S. financial system. Fatal flaws came to light, and the American people demanded retribution for the misuse of their money. When the government, in an attempt to hinder a looming economic depression, bailed out large financial institutions, the lives of millions of Americans were instantly changed. There was a large focus on the impact of these events on lower and middle-class citizens, but in "A Fatal Debt", debut author John Gapper creates an imaginative thriller, focusing on a CEO who also saw a drastic change of life after the financial crash. Harry Shapiro had it all. A high profile position as owner and president of a top financial institution at the heart of Wall Street provided him with the luxurious lifestyle most people can only dream of. Unfortunately, the combination of one sour deal, in this case the purchase of a smaller, struggling company, and the market crash left a lasting mark on Shapiro's life. After a public hearing finds Shapiro at fault for the collapse of his company, the once confident financier is left jobless and depressed. This is how Ben Cowper, a young psychiatrist at New York's Episcopal Hospital finds Shapiro. When Harry's wife discovers her husband in his study, clutching a handgun, she immediately brings him to the hospital. After a short assessment of the man, Ben believes that Shapiro is suicidal and that he should be kept in the hospital for further evaluation. But Harry will have no part of this diagnosis. At the encouragement of the hospital, which received generous donations from the Shapiro family, Ben decides to release Harry from the psych ward and to treat Harry at his home. After a chat with Harry, Ben feels that he is making some progress. Shapiro seems content with his situation, and willing to work with Ben. A few days later, Ben is shocked to learn of a fatal shooting in the Shapiro's mansion. With the profile of Shapiro's psychiatric condition suddenly raised, Ben finds himself inside a murder investigation that could lead loss of his job, medical license, and even his life. Gapper has created an edge of your seat thriller that grabs you from the very beginning. Drawing on the events surrounding the market crash, he introduces fascinating characters into the high-stakes world of Wall Street. Despite losing a bit of urgency in the last third of the story, the opening events are strong enough to propel the reader through the rest of the book. A mixture of murder investigation, legal thriller, and medical drama, "A Fatal Debt" is a fast paced novel that should not be missed.
LAStarks More than 1 year ago
In A Fatal Debt, Gapper unwinds an excellent mystery. He expertly paints the looming background of the US 2008 debt crisis. While the details are vivid and factual, the characters are well-conceived. Ben Cowper, a psychiatrist, is a particularly sympathetic protagonist. As a reader and writer, I appreciate Gapper's page-turning style. As a finance professional, I appreciate the nuggets of financial expertise that nonetheless don't get in the way of a "can-you-believe-it?" good story.
KenCady More than 1 year ago
A Fatal Debt has a certain charm to it, as does Ben Cowper, the psychiatrist at the heart of the novel. For me though, the plot was awkward and did not really hold up in the end. 3.5 stars would suit this review best, but my generosity of spirit makes me give it four. There's not a character in the book I would invite home with me, so it was hard to root for anyone in the story. (Charm is not enough!)
Draak on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Dr. Ben Cowper is an attending psychiatrist at Episcopla hospital. Enter Harry Shapiro an ex Wall Street Banking Exec and his wife Nora. Harry has been depressed ever since the market fell and he was forced to resign after losing billions of dollars. Nora found him with a gun and was afraid that he was going to kill himself so she brought him to the hospital. Ben admits him and thinks that he is done with them. But Harry insist on Ben treating him and then insists on going home. With Harry's insistence that he is fine and the prodding of the hospital president Ben releases him.And then someone dies and Ben is in a whole lot of trouble with no help from the hospital and the only one who can help him is Ben himself.This is John Gappers first novel and I hope not his last because I am now a big fan. From the first page to the last he had me hooked. It is a fast paced and compelling read that has a little bit of something for everyone. I won this book from LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
CelticLibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this suspense thriller about a psychiatrist who gets involved in a patient's revenge plot that leads to murder.Dr. Ben Cowper is called to he ER to evaluate a patient who may be dangerous to himself or others. He's stunned to find that the identity of the man he's asked to treat is none other than disgraced Wall Street banker, Harry Shapiro. In a convoluted series of events, Ben's life is turned inside out as he becomes involved in a fight for his own career and his life.There was a lot of interesting financial information in this novel and I would have rated it higher except for the ridiculousness of the romance that the author throws in. If that had been left out, the book would have been one I'd recommend for the uniqueness of the topic: malfeasance, greed, and revenge in the banking industry!
CathyShelton on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a very interesting book and explored the relationship between a psycharist and his patient, the patient's wife and their housekeeper. It also explored the difference in the types of relationships that can occur during the course of that bond and how it can change. Lots of excitement and drama.
LivelyLady on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A psychiatrist becomes sucked into mystery and intrigue when asked to care for a hospital benefactor who is depressed. The book moved along well. I was surprised at the accuracy of the medical workings written by a financial writer with no acknowledgement for input of a medical person. The ending was somewhat predictable. I would recommend this book for someone who likes drama.
coker74 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found John Gapper's book, A Fatal Debt, well written, but the story just didn't grab me. Dr Ben Cowper isn't the kind of character to draw me back to a book. I got about halfway through it and just put it down. When I let a book "sit" for a week or so I just tend to move on to something else. Like his writing style and would enjoy trying something else by him.
bill on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
John Gapper's novel, A Fatal Debt, takes on current events on Wall Street. Although economics can be quite dry and rarely banch into the mystery and intrigue outlined in Grapper's novel, he tells a good story that keeps the reader involved and ready to turn the page. Ben Cowper becomes an unwitting party to murder and in danger himself unless he can prove that murder transpired despite his efforts to treat his Wall Street patient. With no idea as to who is friend and who is foe, he must solve the mystery to save his own life and his career. The mystery is well written, engaging, and held my attention to the end.
gaby317 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put down A Fatal Debt. Fortunately, I started the book while traveling to Boston so I had nearly 4 hours of uninterrupted reading. John Gapper gives us a smart, ambitious and sympathetic lead character/amateur sleuth in Dr. Ben Cowper. Ben is on duty when Harry Shapiro, the man donated the funds and for whom a hospital wing at New York-Episcopal is named, arrives at the hospital. Ben's initial treatment of Harry makes and impression but it is still a surprise when billionaire Harry Shapiro bypasses the department head and specifically requests for Ben. The novel captures the nuances of hospital and departmental politics from the point of view of a promising but junior member of staff. These passages particularly resonated with me. A Fatal Debt is a thriller where the action comes from complex financial transactions in the world of investment banking and Wall Street. The drama comes from divided loyalties, upended friendships, and the upheaval of ordinary lives. John Gapper takes us to these new landscapes and private worlds full of white collar crime - and on a complex and engrossing readISBN-10: 0345527895 Hardcover $26.00Publisher: Ballantine Books (June 26, 2012), 288 pages.Review copy courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley.
Carolee888 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
`A Fatal Debt¿ by John Grapper started off great but soon went downhill for me. Dr. Cowper, a psychiatrist was on night duty gets called to attend to Harry Shapiro. That was out of the usual standard procedure. The psychiatrist is usually third in line to see the patient but Harry Shapiro got to skip the second step. The Shapiros were wealthy and had made such large donations to the hospital that their engraved names were prominently displayed and there promises of more large gifts. Rules were being secretly broken. At first, Mr. Shapiro seemed to be at risk for harming himself; he had lost his extremely well paying CEO job and seemed depressed. The author has Dr. Cowper go over some very interesting information about suicidal patients, some of which I already knew. But one thing nagged at me. Mr. Shapiro has a summer estate in the Hamptons, how could he been admitted for observation and possible treatment with his Medicaid card. Dr. Cowper states that he wanted to save hassles with the insurance company. This is in an Advanced Reading Copy so I am not if that was a mistake or what, I just don¿t understand it. I enjoyed this book until page 28, and then it got bogged down with Dr. Cowper¿s personal life. I didn¿t understand the romance part. I did not enjoy reading about it; I did not feel that I could identify with Dr. Cowper and any of his family, Mr. and Mrs. Shapiro. I tried to read faster in hopes of finding something interesting. It seemed to me that the book could have been written in such a way that it could have been a page turner but I found myself pushing to get to the end of each chapter. To sum it up, after the 28th page, the book started to drag and I couldn¿t see where it was going and I didn¿t care anymore. A small hope keep me reading and reading but I still could not get engaged.I cannot recommend this book.I received this book from the publishers of this book as a win from Library Thing and that in no way influenced my review.
grumpydan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Harry Shapiro, a former Wall Street banker, is admitted to the hospital for psychiatric tests after losing his prestigious job. His wife thinks he is suicidal and wanted him to be evaluated. Ben Cowper, the psychiatrist, wants to admit but Harry is soon released and a few days later there is a death at his Hampton¿s home. Ben Cowper¿s life is soon turned upside when his home is vandalized and his attacked. Filled with a lot of financial data that is interesting, but falls flat on mystery and thrills. Although, it is well written, I didn¿t connect with Cowper and therefore couldn¿t absorb myself into his predicament.
everfresh1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The book has all the ingredients of the successful suspense novel - interesting subject (which author has definitely knows about), good writing, well developed characters - but something is amiss. The flow is sometimes slow, some plot developments are questionable or predictable. In the end, I was left with feeling of disappointment for missed opportunity.