With its themes of billionaire business rivalries and libidinous liaisons in New York City, Tools of the Trade could be mistaken at first for a sly take on an upscale romance novel. But author Philip B. Persinger has something cleverer in mind for this witty, prurient tale, creating a character study of alpha males and just-as-alpha females.
The book doesn’t have a central character per se, focusing instead on a variety of characters (and their discrete viewpoints) over its 90 short chapters. The author rapidly alternates among a pair of billionaires, their paramours, a dominatrix, a maintenance man, an actress, a police officer and others, each dealing with a variety of professional and personal conflicts. (The cop works a sex crimes beat while recovering from an injury; the dominatrix takes advantage of her lover’s slight frame for an impersonation scheme, and so on.)
It’s a rich tapestry of individuals, all fully realized and none less than interesting. The book plays somewhat like a Robert Altman film, taking its time to lay the relationship groundwork before the stories coalesce in the final act. With big money and bigger passions at stake, some violent action kicks in near the end, which feels a touch incongruous but still satisfying.
Tools of the Trade is funnier than most Altman films and kinkier as well: BDSM plays a featured role both literally and metaphorically. Those with especially delicate sensibilities won’t make it past the bawdy opening chapter, which provides a shrewd litmus test. While the story is anything but linear, Persinger’s writing is crisp and entertaining, never missing an opportunity for an adroit turn of phrase or an outrageous twist.
The book is ultimately more amusing than outright hilarious, and it might benefit from weaving together some of its disparate threads a bit earlier. But sharp storytelling, crisp dialogue and complex characterization make it a generously entertaining read.
Also available as an ebook.