In the seven years since his son, Kyle, disappeared off the streets of Manhattan, Mark Wallace has been slowly rebuilding his career as an energy market analyst and struggling to keep his family intact. But things are about to take a dangerous turn. After a terrorist attack on a Russian oil pipeline, a colleague slips Mark classified information about Saudi oil fields, then suddenly turns up dead. With his family still reeling from Kyle’s disappearance, Mark takes it upon himself to learn how these seemingly disparate pieces all fit together. In a remarkable high-wire balancing act, Lee Vance has combined the intrigue of finance, the cutthroat world of energy politics, and the emotional pull of a family in crisis into a powerful, gripping thriller.
Excerpted from The Garden of Betrayal by Lee Vance. Copyright © 2010 by Lee Vance. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Lee Vance is a graduate of Harvard Business School and a retired general partner of Goldman Sachs Group. He lives in New York City with his wife and three children.
Q: You include a quote at the beginning of the book, “Judas, his betrayer, knew the place because Jesus and the disciples went there often. So Judas led the way to the garden…”, John 12:2—3. Why did you include that quote and how does this play into your title, THE GARDEN OF BETRAYAL?
A: The book is a thriller in the sense that there’s an underlying conspiracy to commit terrible crimes, and the protagonist is in constant jeopardy from seen and unseen forces, but it’s also very much a novel about relationships – about the forces that bind a family together, and the camaraderie of the workplace, and the unexpected links we sometimes form with people who randomly enter our lives. I included the quote and chose the title to reflect the fact that most terrible for the protagonist of all the dangers he faces is his betrayal by a friend.
The working title, by the way, was The Garden of Gethsemane, but a close acquaintance sagely observed that people not familiar with the bible would likely think it was a travel book, that people familiar with the bible would likely think it was a religious book, and that no one would be able to pronounce it. Which was a shame, because the name ‘Gethsemane’ literally translates as ‘oil-press place’ in ancient Hebrew, which tied nicely to the energy theme.
Q: In THE GARDEN OF BETRAYAL, protagonist Mark Wallace works for a hedge fund, advising a select group of investors on global energy pricing. At one point, he is given data on Saudi oil production. Why would this be valuable information for someone in Mark’s field?
A: No one knows how much oil there is in the world, or what percentage of that oil is recoverable. The only certainties are that the amount is finite, and that we’ll recover less than all of it. Hence long term – in twenty years, or fifty years, or a hundred years – we’re going to run out. The key questions are whether we’ll have time to make a smooth transition to an alternative source of energy, and what that source will be.
The Saudis are particularly important at this moment in history because they’re the one major oil producer thought to have proven, developed, excess capacity i.e. established wells that they aren’t currently pumping. But no one outside the Kingdom knows what that excess capacity is, nor do we know much about the rate at which their active fields are running down. There’s a school of thought that holds that the Saudis don’t actually have any excess capacity, and that their production is set to plunge in the near future. If so, the unexpected shortages would wreak massive global economic damage, spark famine, and almost certainly lead to further military conflict in the Middle East. Hence any information about Saudi capacity would be enormously valuable to a wide variety of business, political, and social institutions.
Q: What sort of research did you do into energy markets?
A: I co-managed Energy Trading at Goldman Sachs for a number of years, so I’m pretty familiar with the markets. I interviewed some of my old friends, read through a bunch of International Energy Agency documents, and poked around on the Internet a fair bit. There’s a big community of Hubbard Peak theorists – people who are convinced we’re going to run out of oil any day now, and who are busy stocking up on canned food and guns. I certainly hope they’re wrong.
Q: Among many other revelations, one thing that this horrific oil spill in the Gulf has exposed about us is our dependency on oil. We haven’t yet figured out how to live without it. At one point in your book, Mark Wallace says, “No matter what happens in the future…I strongly doubt there will be anything like a Cadillac Escalade, save perhaps in a museum.” In your research, did you find that this is where we are heading?
A: Energy experts who downplay the risk of longer-term oil shortages correctly observe that higher prices directly stimulate exploration and technological innovation. Hence the oil supply crisis of 1979 led to the oil price crash of the 1990’s, as producers found new fields, figured out how to pump more oil from existing fields, and developed techniques to tap previously uneconomic fields.
Ultimately – definitionally – the world will run out of new fields, and old fields will cease to produce. And the Gulf disaster suggests that developing previous uneconomic fields – fields deep underwater, or in other ecologically sensitive areas or difficult circumstances – may prove less easy than industry pundits have assumed.
Again, I don’t know if we’re going to run out of oil in twenty years, or fifty years, or a hundred years, but I do know that we’re going to run out, and that the less prepared we are for the transition, the greater the economic and social cost will be.
Q: In the prologue of THE GARDEN OF BETRAYAL, Mark’s 12 year old son, Kyle, is snatched off the street as he is on his way to rent a movie. Chapter One cuts to seven years later and Kyle has never been seen or heard from again. Library Journal said of THE GARDEN OF BETRAYAL, “…[Vance’s] real strength is his sympathetic portrayal of a grieving family”. As a father of three, was Kyle’s disappearance difficult for you to write?
A: Hugely. In fact it made me nervous about the whole project, because I was afraid the emotional impact of the prologue might put readers off. Fortunately, upsetting as the disappearance is, most readers seem drawn in enough to want to continue. And while Kyle’s kidnapping overhangs the entire book, I tried to focus on the positive aspects of how a family carries on together after a tragedy.
Q: At one point some of the characters create a storyboard. Is that how you plan your story?
A: Ha. Yes. I tape index cards all over the walls of my office. People tend to laugh when they see them. But it can be really difficult to sequence a complicated plot, and to make sure that all the ends tie together neatly. Which is important to me. I hate sloppy or improbable plotting. Years back, I read Mark Twain’s devastating critique of James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales, and still wince to recall some of the physical and temporal errors Twain identified. I work hard to get the details right.
Q: You were a trader at Goldman Sachs for twenty years. How does your previous experience in the financial world inform your writing?
A: I guess in the way that any writer’s life informs his or her writing. It’s the world I grew up in. I know the people, and the markets, and the milieu, and I use those elements to populate and site my stories.
On a more personal note, it’s deeply distressing to me that so many mistakes were made by so many financial institutions in recent years - and by regulatory bodies, and legislatures - and that those mistakes hurt so many people. But I’m still very proud of my association with Goldman Sachs. I have enormous regard for their senior leadership, and continue to believe that they are a fundamentally ethical organization.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: The working title of number three is Red Money. Texans, Chinese, currency manipulations, and domestic terrorists with precision-guided munitions. I hope everyone enjoys it.
From the Hardcover edition.