By Martin Baker
|Value for money||7/10|
|Did it do what it said on the box?||7/10|
A cracking thriller, and an intriguing insight into the world of high finance
This is a cracking thriller, which will draw you in quickly and keep you turning the pages through to the final resolution. At its heart, it’s an "innocent accused of great wrongdoing on the run" tale, reminiscent of The 39 Steps, but set solidly in the noughties against the background of international high finance. This background is what makes it so intriguing, as the author intelligently and clearly explains how we have created markets in which a few men, motivated mainly by greed, can harm currencies, whole economies, or even conceivably the whole banking system itself.
I greatly enjoyed this book, but I do have a few reservations. Firstly I spotted a number of silly errors. If your central character’s party piece is to quote pi to many digits, you need to make sure that the first nine you quote in the text are correct, but they weren’t. There were also minor characters whose names changed inexplicably, and segments of repeated text in which key figures were different. I was working from a pre-publication proof, and these errors may be corrected before publication, but it’s not an encouraging sign.
More critically, this story follows the current fashion where the heroes and villains are not just men but supermen and women. There are too many "stunning" characters who add model-like looks to top academic credentials and great athleticism. It’s also slightly hard to believe when the hero suddenly reveals hacking skills beyond the abilities of his well-funded pursuers. The story would work equally well with characters who excel in individual fields, and would be more believable as a result.
The main denoument is fine, with most issues resolved well, but I found the actual end of the book slightly disappointing and a bit of a non-sequiteur. It’s not a big problem, and I understand what the author was trying to do stylistically, but it doesn’t quite work. That said, it doesn’t detract significantly from the main body of the book, which is well-written with a steady pace and enough twists and turns to keep the most avid reader alert.
This is a very contemporary book, and it does run the risk of becoming dated or overtaken by events. As a simple example the quoted oil prices have been significantly exceeded before the book’s publication, and the current credit crunch is taking international markets in a rather different direction to the story. It may not work in ten years’ time, but for now it’s a very good read.