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Insider’s Story

Photograph (portrait) by Rachel Costello

July 25, 2012

Insider’s Story
Writer Colleen Troy catches up with Norb Vonnegut, author of new financial thriller
The Trust, just before he arrives in Charleston

written by Colleen Troy

Norb Vonnegut brings an insider’s view to his novels, which center on financial shenanigans and the folks who get caught pulling them. A former NYC wealth manager, the writer with the famous last name (he’s Kurt’s distant cousin), grew up in Charleston. He’ll return tomorrow, July 26, to discuss and sign The Trust at The Charleston Library Society. The just-released whodunit features a besieged stockbroker and a mysteriously deceased Holy City philanthropist. We caught up with Norb in NYC:

Charleston magazine: Did a specific incident inspire The Trust?
Norb Vonnegut:
At the end of the ’90s, I was part of a five-person team at Morgan Stanley, and we got a call from someone who wanted to invest $50 million with our team, with the promise of more to come. In those days, Morgan used a “bad guys” list—people we should avoid doing business with at all costs. We ran the guy’s name and sure enough, he was bad. Meanwhile, I’ve always worked with charities in my practice and in life. Charities have money that floats around them, but they don’t have teams of lawyers to watch out for the bad guys. They are very vulnerable. My Wall Street friends read this book and feel it’s very true to life.

CM: When you originally conjured your hero, Grove O’Rourke, did you envision him living beyond your first book, Top Producer?
At the start I wasn’t sure, and strayed a bit with my second book, The Gods of Greenwich. But Grove is and will be an ongoing character because a stockbroker meets all kinds of characters and allows me to explore a vast number of relationships. Grove is guided by one principle: he’s trying to do the right thing.

CM: Describe your relationship to Charleston.
I just love the city and am counting the hours ’til we get back there. I went to Cathedral starting in third grade, then to Bishop England. I returned for eight years after business school. I always come back. And Grove will be back, too.

CM: Will locals-in-the-know recognize characters in The Trust?
You know, that’s the game everybody plays in Charleston. In South of Broad, Pat Conroy stirred up quite a ruckus of guessing games, including from me. I mean, come on [laughs], where did Sister Norberta come from? The fact is my book takes place at the corner of Broad and East Bay, an area where I used to work. The feel is Charleston but there are no revelations of scandals behind the scenes.

CM: Charleston sure shows up in a lot of fiction. What is it about this city?
I think Charleston is just a love fest for all the senses. Writers talk about that. When I go to Charleston, I smell the magnolias and the humidity and, let’s put it out there, the horses. Visually it’s just beautiful. The noises of Charleston are special, too. When you walk out on the street and hear some of the old time Gullah, it’s just like God’s gift to the senses. It’s mesmerizing.

CM: Religion, sex, money, a character named Bong. Do your Wall Street pals think you get their world about right?
Here’s the thing, outside a 50-mile radius of New York, everybody hates Wall Street. I was just at a conference for thriller writers and Wall Street is the new Russia in terms of villains. But in The Trust you find both villains and good guys from Wall Street. My colleagues tell me the stories I create reflect the business well; I present a balanced picture.

CM: With such a famous last name, which was harder: starting or finishing your first book?
Definitely starting it! I’ve gone through life walking into English teachers’ classrooms absolutely terrified, breaking into cold sweats. There’s just no getting around this name. Starting was hard, but once I did, it was too much fun to stop.

Norb Vonnegut discusses and signs The Trust on Thursday, July 26, at 6 p.m. at The Charleston Library Society, 164 King St. RSVP to the free event by calling the library at (843) 723-9912 or emailing

Find details about Vonnegut’s signing and other Charleston Library Society happenings here.

For more events coming up around town, click here.

Wed, 07/25/2012