FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH (1907) – Written by Thomas William Lawson, a writer and stock manipulator who made a fortune from shady stock deals … in between advocating for cleaning up Wall Street to shut down those fleece jobs. The reforms Lawson campaigned for were taken up decades later when Franklin Roosevelt appointed future Supreme Court Justice William O Douglas to head the Securities Exchange Commission.
Coincidentally enough the overall feel of Friday the Thirteenth put me in mind of FDR’s cousin, Theodore Roosevelt. The novel did that with its New York setting, with the way the story takes place late in T.R.’s presidency and most especially with the way it dealt with ethics in the marketplace.
Jim Randolph, one of the novel’s main characters, is in the T.R. mold: he may be a bloated rich pig but at least he’s a bloated rich pig with a sense of noblesse oblige. Jim shares Teddy Roosevelt’s disdain for the Trusts and for con men who use the stock market to rip off their clients.
It’s not as if Jim Randolph is as fiery as Teddy Forstmann was in his opposition to Leveraged Buy Outs during the 1980s, but like Forstmann he has a sense of what makes for a healthy economy and frowns upon the fly-by-night operators who thrive on irresponsible “frenzied finance” as Randolph calls it.
In Jim’s case it’s more of an Old Money sentiment in that he feels certain Wall Street hustlers don’t have the “proper character” for the select club of High Finance. Still, Jim is interesting in a Michael Corleone way, as a flawed but complex protagonist, not as a simplistic hero in a morality play.
Jim’s old Harvard pal Bob Brownley works with Jim at his family firm Randolph & Randolph. Jim runs the entire enterprise while the more dynamic Bob occupies Randolph & Randolph’s seat on the Stock Exchange floor, wheeling and dealing.
Unlike his pal Jim, who is married with children, Bob is still a bachelor. Enter Beulah Sands, a beautiful southern belle from Virginia. Her family knows Bob’s from the Old Dominion and she soon lures the smitten Bob and his friend Jim into a plan she has hatched.
Beulah wants the help of the two Wall Street players in regaining her family’s fortune which was bilked away by the Ivan Boeskys of the early 1900s. From there things get more and more complicated until the entire economy of the United States and elsewhere will collapse if one wrong move is made.
Bob Brownley’s addiction to gambling surfaces again for the first time since his and Jim’s college days, and once in full adrenaline-junkie mode, Bob’s risks threaten to cause a full-blown Depression on a very fateful Friday the Thirteenth.
This novel is not for all tastes, but I really enjoyed it. I was charmed by the mannered writing and intrigued with the story’s combination of gangster and espionage appeal mixed in with all the financial maneuvering. And the only element lacking from the period atmosphere was a reference or two to Puck magazine, then in its pro-Theodore Roosevelt heyday.
If a book that is equal parts Barbarians at the Gate, The Godfather and The Scarlatti Inheritance sounds like something you would go for then you need to check out Friday the Thirteenth. Sure, Jim and Bob never don hockey masks and begin stabbing teenagers but I think it will more than hold your interest in spite of that. ++
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