The Winner Maker is a uniquely blended, cross-genre tale of the good and bad of over-achieving and the price paid to become a “winner.”
The book opens with a very dramatic scene with students gathered around their awe-inspiring honors English teacher atop the Chrysler Building in Chicago. As the high achieving students are preparing for their individual presentation, one student shocks the crowd by dangling below the glass floor by a giant magnet. However, the magnets do not hold and as the student plunges to his death, a white banner emerges proclaiming, “Live Big,” the teacher’s motto for his private group of “Winners.” Six months later, the book continues with the disappearance of this septuagenarian teacher and coach, Bob Fiske. Four of his former students, all “winners,” gather to help locate their beloved teacher. As they pursue clues to his disappearance, they must also confront secrets each holds dear, as well as the underlying tension from their own high school experience under the tutelage of Fiske. Eric, a program developer aka the “geek,” Lydia who has overcome her shyness to succeed and whose sister died on the night of their prom; Doug, the quarterback, all-star, who is now a hedge fund broker and his wife, Stephanie, perhaps the most loyal follower of Fiske who is now a successful marketing guru. Each must deal with the past in order to solve Fiske’s disappearance, but at what cost to each of them personally and professionally?
Admittedly, I quite nearly stopped reading this book after the first few chapters; not because it wasn’t well written but, rather, because I detested the characters intensely. I haven’t had such a visceral reaction to all of the main characters of a book in a really long time, however, these “winners” made me want to slap each of them! I persevered, though, and realized that the point of the first part of the book was to elicit exactly those emotions. They all were overachievers, a little too perfect, a lot too driven. I found no humanity in them whatsoever. As the book progressed, I gradually realized that for some of the characters, that perfection was a shell masquerading their insecurities, you know, just like in real life. 😉 Each had something they were hiding and how they individually dealt with their secrets and their past made the book far more than a generic thriller. Instead, the “thriller” aspect to the story took a bit of a backseat to the these character’s lives and emotional turmoil.
There were two things that kept me from giving this a perfect rating. First, while I found the characters to be beyond convincing, some of their actions were not. One had to suspend belief just a little to assume that a high school kid could get away with what Jesse did in the opening sequence. There are other examples, but that one was a little over-the-top. Secondly, I still – days later – am not entirely sure that I liked the ending. It was abrupt, extremely fitting, but a little too abrupt. Either it was the perfect ending or … well, I’m just not sure. You read it and tell me what you think!
Whether you like suspense, thrillers or a really good drama, The Winner Maker will hit all of those buttons and more. It is a fast paced read and parts of it will have you on the edge of your seat wanting more!
Today is publication day for The Winner Maker; you can find it at Amazon. Thank you to #Netgalley and #JeffBond for my copy.