Tennessean T. Randy Stevens, autographing copies, teamed up with professional author P.M. Terrell on the kidnap mystery The Banker's Greed. You can read a review of the book here. This is an expanded version of the profile appearing in the August 2012 ABA Banking Journal.
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"You could have heard a pin drop," says T. Randy Stevens when he recalls the FBI agent's speech to his bank's staff in the late 1980s regarding what to do if an employee were kidnapped. "He kind of put the fear in all of us."
The bank's CEO knew the area FBI folks well and had requested the presentation, says Stevens, who has been with $1 billion-assets First Farmers and Merchants Bank for 39 years. (He's now chairman and CEO.)
Something took root in Stevens' mind during the seminar. A month later, in a burst of creativity, he sketched out The Banker's Greed, a novel of the kidnapping of a banker's daughter, on a napkin. (The title's significance is revealed in the book's final line.) He showed the plot to his wife, Leesa. "You've got to write this story," she said.
Stevens completed his first draft in 1990. He reworked the novel with some input and encouragement from his wife and John Seigenthaler, onetime editor and later publisher of The Tennessean newspaper. But in time, as he moved up in the bank, life became busier, and he put the novel away.
A few years ago, Stevens picked up his draft again. This time, he had made a connection with P.M. Terrell, a professional mystery writer. Terrell reviewed his draft and gave him suggestions and assignments, chapter by chapter. "I'd get up at 2:00 a.m. or 3:00 a.m. and work until 7:00 a.m. or so," he says. He and Terrell agreed to work through the draft in one year, with Terrell taking on Stevens' reworked chapters. "She would then put her magic on it," says Stevens. Drake Valley Press, a specialist in mysteries, suspense novels, and thrillers, published The Banker's Greed in 2010.
The authors' thriller revolves around two major characters: Jessica Palmer, a soon-to-graduate Vanderbilt University law student and privileged child of the head of a large Tennessee community bank, and the banker himself, Vincent Palmer. (In the original draft, Jessica was 14, but in her only major plot revision, Terrell made her an adult, seeing that as more dramatic.) In the first part of the novel, Palmer, portrayed unsympathetically, quickly becomes prime suspect as instigator of the kidnapping. Authorities believe that Palmer organized the crime for a split, with the actual kidnappers, of half a $5 million kidnap insurance policy. He goes to prison, with his own daughter's testimony weighing heavily in the verdict.
But Jessica Palmer grows convinced her father was framed and, in the face of disbelieving authorities and personal danger, strives to clear him and bring the guilty to justice. It's a gripping story, told with much attention to genuine banking and police procedural detail.
Many bankers ask Stevens who inspired the characters. "All of the major characters are from my mind or P.M. Terrell's," he says. "There are no exactly true characters."
Banker reaction has been favorable. "They all know it's fiction," explains Stevens. "I have not heard one bad comment. Most bankers are among the most generous people in the world, and greed is not part of them."
Indeed, Stevens' share of the book's profits is going to charities.
T. Randy Stevens' book idea languished for years as banking life grew busier, but with the encouragement of friends and family he picked it up again.
Read an online review of The Banker's Greed in our Books for Bankers section.