Paperback (also available as an e-book), 978-1-09831-022-6, 288 pgs., $14.95
August 8, 2020
Amid a real-life global pandemic that has destroyed millions of jobs and wrecked countless businesses, it can be tough to gain attention for a new novel built around the internal destruction of one large company at the hands of characters engaged in high-level corruption and accounting fraud. Nonetheless, Michael Jungman’s clever new corporate thriller, set in Houston in 2001, offers an engaging tale with echoes of the infamous Enron scandal that brought down what was then America’s seventh largest corporation.
In Bluestream, the acquisition-hungry CEO of Houston’s Conquest Corporation signs a deal to buy a California-based telecommunications research and development company named Bluestream. But the purchase quickly unleashes a chain reaction of troubles inside Conquest that include stolen files, blackmail, questionable funding, and more.
The author, a former Houston lawyer, keeps the “usual suspects” of corporate thrillers—ambition, greed, sex, power, scheming executives, and a nosy investigative reporter—on entertaining display. At the same time, two creative choices set his tale apart from many thrillers that unfold inside global-powerhouse corporations.
First, Jungman’s book employs an uncommon structure: almost every chapter is composed of vignette clusters. The reader is taken inside the separate worlds of several characters during a single time segment. This approach helps track Bluestream’s nine main characters and their developing importance to the story’s outcome.
Second, Houston itself contributes to how the plot plays out. Jungman includes four vignettes drawn from key moments in the Bayou City’s history: its founding in 1839, the 1901 discovery of oil at Spindletop, how fortunes were made in the 1949 oil boom, and how fortunes were lost in the 1983 oil crash. All of these events helped shape Houston’s modern business atmosphere (circa 2001).
“A local boast,” Jungman writes in Bluestream, “had it that Houston offered more freedom and opportunity than any other place in America. . . . Houston remained the Wild West of great American cities, an unapologetic bastion of free enterprise, a place that welcomed risk-takers of every stripe and dispensed only mild condemnation to those who turned out to be liars or frauds.”
Jungman also works bits of humor into the thoughts, dialogue, and personalities of some of Bluestream’s main characters. For Maggie Wheeler, a young corporate wife who “majored in suntan” at the University of Texas at Austin, Houston holds only mild attraction: “A job was the only reason anyone came to Houston. It was the largest city in the world with an almost complete absence of tourists.” Maggie, however, is learning to adapt. She has, Jungman writes, “learned to switch her Texas accent on and off according to her surroundings.”
Meanwhile, Conquest’s billionaire CEO, Jack Burnam, had “donated his time and Conquest’s money” to many Houston civic groups and causes, including a powerful historic-preservation organization, despite his strong bias against it. “Jack admired Houston’s [business] heritage, but he drew the line at old buildings,” Jungman writes. “He thought Houston needed historic preservation as much as it needed ski lifts.”
Bluestream is an absorbing corporate-suspense thriller that reflects both a major city’s freewheeling business drive and the ease with which powerful organizations can be brought down, not only by corrupt executives but by lowly employees who decide to do the right—even if unprofitable—thing.
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