Don Rouse has had his fill of dead-end jobs and failed relationships. Now, if he can only score that easy money that he knows is out there, just waiting for him, he’ll be set. This is the well-written story of Don’s search for that financial windfall, set against the exotic backdrops of China, The Philippines, and a corruption-ridden Thailand.
The narrative, which is terse but compelling, begins with Don and his brother escaping a dysfunctional, hard-luck life in Kansas. Don, with the moral support of a long-time girlfriend, eventually bootstraps himself into a four-year degree, just as the U.S. economy tanks. Desperate for a change of scenery and a new start, he heads to Shanghai to teach English as a Second Language.
For awhile, things go well enough for him to get by, but the seedy accommodations he’s forced to endure lead him to a crossroads in his young life: where is he going, and how will he get there? At loose ends, he travels to Thailand for a brief holiday with his coworkers.
Enter ex-pat Otis and a hulking Brit named Finny, who talk Don into staying in Bankok when his friends — including yet another long-term girlfriend — are returning to their ESL jobs in Shanghai. This is where he learns to be an Opener — someone who spends his days in a vast warren of cubicles, phoning people all over the world and trying to sell bogus stocks and options.
Things go well, and Don is just starting to really get the hang of it when the shop’s owner misses his scheduled payoff to Thai police and they arrive one day like storm troopers to close the place down. Don escapes through a window, drifts around a bit, then jets off to Manila, where he once again tries a fresh start — this time with a woman he has met by chance in a bazaar. Her name is Jessica.
Events begin to unfold in rapid-fire fashion once Don lands in the Philippines. For one, he discovers some very rough customers are looking for him, with the idea that he set up the raid on the Bangkok office. Then, he gets an even bigger surprise — one that completely turns the plot upside down and sideways.
I won’t give away what happens the rest of the way. Suffice to say that this book was written by someone with very intimate knowledge — or great research — of how these “boiler room” operations work, bilking money from people all over the world by phone. They justify their actions by saying that if the poor saps they contact aren’t giving their money to them, they would be giving it to someone else.
The main character, Don, generates a fair amount of sympathetic vibes, so the reader begins to care what happens to him — and plenty does, not all of it good. But by the time the book is over, you’ll never trust a telemarketer again.
I give The Opener five stars as a real page-turner — particularly toward the end as plotlines converge and a mystery is solved satisfactorily. Kudos to the author for writing a convincing who-dun-it, wrapped as the memoir of a self-serving con artist. May I never have to work as an Opener — in this life or the next.