Reading Guides

Mike Cooper
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Clawback centers on Silas Cade, a financial hit man with a past that’s checkered at best. The few details that linger—childhood spent in and out of foster homes, Black Ops in Afghanistan, some college—he’d rather those be erased, too, leaving his biography as clean as a blank balance sheet.

Cade provides “accounting” services to private clients who find his military background more enticing than his CPA certification. Though business cards aren’t really Cade’s style (he runs through more prepaid phones than a low–level drug dealer), if he had a logo it “might be a green eyeshade crossed by a 9 mil.” His job is to extract “clawback,” or the mandatory return of compensation on a deal that goes bad, on behalf of his financier clients who prefer the speed of extra–judiciary justice to the pesky bureaucracy of the U.S. court system. His latest client, Quint Ganderson, gets in touch when a string of bankers turn up dead—including Cade’s former client, Tom Martlett. What at first seems to be a series of unrelated accidents soon reveals a disturbing pattern. The chosen victims all happen to be underperforming hedge fund managers—and their deaths are turning someone a profit.

Is the killer a main street vigilante who has finally taken justice into his or her own hands? A spurned investor looking for revenge? A competitor looking for an edge? Soon, the motivations are as difficult to untangle as the arbitrage–free price of a exchange traded derivative. To complicate things further, everyone on the Street—from CFOs to day traders—has started packing heat. The sudden proliferation of Westchester Country Club shooting ranges and handgun–toting bean counters turns the Financial District deadlier than ever.

Enter Clara Dawson, an intrepid blogger chasing a story about falling Wall Street titans that could land her at the top of several most–emailed lists. Her reportage leads her straight to Silas’s door. Initially reticent to open up to Clara, Cade realizes that this whip–smart blogger could maybe, just maybe, help him track down the assassin—and stop the body count. As Cade finds himself digging deeper into the mystery of the “Banker Buster” (as the media is now calling the killer) he deploys his expansive network of two–bit hustlers, working class stiffs, and Manhattan power players: there’s Walter, Lower East Side–based document forger; Goldfinger, garage attendant and ballistics expert; Zeke, Silas’s brother–in–arms who now suits up as private security; Johnny, day trader and Silas’s inside source on the Street; and Heinrich, Dutch lock–picker extraordinaire. With their help, and Clara’s, Cade is ready to take on the big guns. Or so he thinks.

Clawback kicks off the Silas Cade series with a literal bang, leaving us wondering what’s next for our intrepid hero as he faces down Main Street in Full Ratchet.


Mike Cooper is the pseudonym of a former financial executive who has received widespread recognition for his work under a different name including a Shamus Award, a Thriller nomination, and inclusion in The Best American Mystery Stories 2010. Full Ratchet is Mike Cooper’s follow–up to Clawback and the second installment in the Silas Cade series. He lives outside Boston with his family.


  1. Clawback is both a rebuke and an ode to Oliver Stone’s classic film Wall Street. The characters seem to scoff at the naiveté of 1980s excess while participating in a new standard of overindulgence—Westchester estates replacing Manhattan penthouses, complicated financial models replacing simple trades, and Red Bull replacing cocaine. Do you think there is a banality to the way Cooper depicts Wall Street today? Or is there still some flash of excess in his descriptions? What are some ways Cooper nods to the “ordinariness” of this new Wall Street?

  2. Johnny, Silas’s old friend and inside source, seems to represent the mood of Wall Street as a whole as the bodies start to rack up. How, in Johnny, does Cooper depict the typical contemporary trader? How does this contradict or confirm your image of a stock trader?

  3. Clara Dawson appears on the case shortly after Silas, tracking the story for the financial blog “Event Risk,” in the hopes that this story will launch her to the forefront of virtual reportage. What do you think the role of journalism is in the internet age? Have we reached the point where blogs are more credible than traditional journalism? What do they offer us that newspapers cannot and, conversely, what do newspapers offer us that blogs cannot?

  4. Do you think Silas put Clara into harms way by becoming involved with her? Or do you think they did the right thing by giving into their feelings?

  5. Silas Cade is awash in contractions: jacked, jaded, and stocked with an endless stream of cultural references. In what ways is Silas Cade an atypical action hero? What do we look for in action heroes? In what ways does he fulfill those characteristics? In what ways does he defy them?

  6. At one point, Silas Cade says, “Trying to blow up Times Square is one thing. Taking down the foundation of American capitalism is quite another” (p. 264). What does Silas mean by this? Personally, what scenario frightens you more?

  7. In one scene, Silas and his client meet in a hospital waiting room because there are no cameras that can record their conversation. Does public surveillance make us safer? Or are there instances where it can put us in danger? In an age where every cell phone comes equipped with a camera should we mourn the loss of privacy or celebrate the rise of transparency?

  8. Clara and Silas’s first date is at a hacker conference called BitCon, where they track down his old friend Heinrich. It turns out Heinrich’s area of expertise isn’t firewalls or digital security systems, but good old fashioned lock picking. Does this challenge your idea of what a “hacker” is, in an era of Wikileaks and Anonymous? Is “hacking” perhaps a historical practice, or merely a phenomenon of the internet age?

  9. Clawback raises the issue of the American consumer taking justice into their own hands after the collapse of the financial market and the failure of the legal system to persecute those responsible. Do you think this Robin Hood revenge is ever justified? Can you think of any examples where citizens have successfully taken the law into their own hands?

  10. One issue that Clawback addresses is the status of veterans of both Afghanistan and Iraq. While Silas has been able to parlay his experience into private consulting, many of his former comrades find themselves moonlighting security for VIPs and minor celebrities. How do well do you think society provides for veterans returning from service? What do you make of Cooper’s juxtaposition between combat veterans and Ivy League MBAs?

  11. One of the most interesting minor characters is Rondo, Clara’s roommate. How is Silas initially thrown by Rondo’s appearance? Do you think appearances can be deceiving?

  12. In Clawback many of the characters care about only one thing: profit. Do you think money is an effective motivator? Which characters have motivations other than money, and how does that influence their sense of morality?

  13. Clara works at the Thatcher Athenaeum, an old private library, as a shelver. Why do you think it’s significant that Cooper has chosen a library as a major setting for the story? How does it contrast with the tech–savvy action, and how does it complement it?

  14. Who are some of the characters Silas enlists for help in nabbing the assassin? Based on the way Silas describes them, would you characterize any of them as “friends”? Or are they solely work contacts?