Reaganism and Thatcherism shook up the international financial system, unleashing forces of enterprise, e.g. the Big Bang or deregulation of the financial markets in London in 1986. But these changes also creating a climate in which greed and avarice had spectacular opportunities in which to manifest themselves – the Great Crash in 1987 did have a sobering effect on many. Exactly 10 years after the Big Bang in the television series The Naked City on BBC2 Michael Lewis, author of the factual, autobiography Liar’s Poker was interviewed at length about that era, as was the novelist Linda Davies who was also a banker during that period.
Whereas other novelists who drew inspiration from the yuppie era such as McInerney, and Wolfe had a background in journalism (as did Ken Follett who set his first banking novel in the 1970s and his second in the Victorian period), a small group of new novelists who had worked as bankers during the previous decade emerged in the mid-1990s on both sides of the Atlantic. They included Po Bronson and Stephen Frey in the United States, and Linda Davies and Michael Ridpath in Great Britain. (One of the books of David Ignatius, a financial journalist and editor whose work is discussed in the previous section, has a lot in common with some of the works of these authors). Their emergence coincided with a period of great financial scandals such as Barings, and many others involving derivatives, BCCI, Maxwell, BRE-X etc.
Po Bronson‘s first novel was a black comedy, Bombardiers which has been compared with both Bonfire of the Vanities and Liar’s Poker. In an essay the Vision in the Visible in which he described his motivation he wrote:
I do not look upon Wall Street’s high financial orgy as an 80s thing. I never did. Something happened there that I find endemic to the merging of pure capitalism, the Information Age, and computer technology. I did not get a glimpse of the 80s, I got a glimpse of the future. I got a glimpse of what our jobs will be like in another ten years, and it’s a story I must tell.
Finance impinges on all industries and therefore it is perhaps not surprising that a former banker living in California should look to Silicon Valley for inspiration. Bronson’s second novel, The First $20 Million is Always the Hardest centres on plans for producing the computing equivalent of the Volkswagen, a really cheap, simple, reliable computer and not long after he started work on it predictions about the end of the PC and the rise of thenetwork computer made it more topical than he had originally imagined.
While working first on Wall Street and then in the City of London Linda Davies had become aware of the scope for enormous swindles and that provided the inspiration for Nest of Vipers. Not long after it came out Nick Leeson caused the downfall of Barings Bank and the Canadian magazine Maclean’s in an article on the Barings scandal claimed:
Linda Davies has proven a point made years ago by Marshall McLuhan, who said that artists can warn us of future disasters.
Since then there have been a number of alleged cases of insider trading involving central banks which have close parallels to the plot of Nest of Vipers. Many of the main characters of her novels are adventurous women in a man’s world. Her second book Wilderness of Mirrors features two women, one and investment banker, the other an MI6 agent, and a plot involving a diamond mine in Vietnam. Into the Fire her third book, features a woman suspected of a fraud involving derivatives who flees to Peru (a country where Linda Davies lived for 3 years after her husband, also a banker, was posted there) where she makes an enemy of both the security forces and drug runners. A new edition of Into the Fire was published in 2007 by Twenty First Century Publishers. Something Wild, broke new ground in being the first work of fiction to deal with Bowie bonds, a revolution in the music business. Final Settlement, a psychological thriller, came out in Canada in 2005 and is set in New England and the Highlands of Scotland. The hardback edition was published in Britain in 2007. In 2008 Linda Davies switched to children’s fiction with Sea Djinn, the first in a series of books set in Dubai and neighbouring countries.
After undergoing training in New York, Michael Ridpath worked in London first as a credit analyst and then a bond trader managing one of the largest junk bond portfolios in Europe before joining a venture capital firm but gave that up after his first book Free to Trade, which proved to be a major international success, was accepted for publication. The story involves murder and insider dealing in the world of bond trading. For his second book, Trading Reality, Ridpath, like Bronson, turned to the computer industry. While working in the venture capital business he had been heavily involved with a leading company in the field of virtual reality and he drew on that experience in writing the novel. His third book, The Marketmaker dealt with emerging markets and much of it was set in Brazil. For his fourth novel, Final Venture Ridpath returned to the world of venture capital where an investment may worth several hundred million dollars one day, and nothing the next. The training programmes of international investment banks can be exceptionally gruelling but the trainees inthe Predator has a fatal accident which is pivotal to events that unfold years later. The Internet bubble of 1999-2000 provides the inspiration for Fatal Error was published in 2003. Two old friends set up a football (soccer) website called Goal.com but when the bubble bursts the strains on the friendship have dangerous consequences. With On the Edge in 2005 Ridpath began a new series of novels featuring bond trader Alex Calder. After his eighth financial thriller Ridpath switched to the field of detective fiction. Where The Shadows Lie, the first in a series about an Icelandic detective, Magnus Jonson.
Stephen Frey is a principal at a Northern Virginia private equity firm who previously worked in mergers and acquisitions at J. P. Morgan and as a vice president of corporate finance at an international bank in Manhattan, but since 1995 when The Takeover became a best seller he has been best-known as a novelist. The plot of The Takeover involves the assassination of the Federal Reserve Board chairman as part of a larger scheme to manipulate the outcome of a huge corporate merger. This book was followed by The Vulture Fund, The Inner Sanctum, and the Legacy. Blackmail, terrorism, murder, and political conspiracies, feature strongly in Frey’s financial thrillers and his writing has compared with that of John Grisham, Robert Ludlum and Tom Clancey.The Insider, his fifth novel, tells the story of a man who jumps at the chance to work for an influential Wall Street investment firm only to find himself implicated in a crime of which he is completely innocent. The Trust Fund, deals with the rivalry between two brothers, one an influential financier, the other a politician seemingly heading for the White House. In January 2002 Frey’s Day Trader first appeared. It deals with one of the notable features of the dot.com bubble of the late 1990s when the ease of buying and selling shares via the Internet tempting lots of ordinary people to risk their savings in search of a fortune. Silent Partner, which came out in 2003, is set in a big Virginia financial institution whose mortgage lending practices are racist. InShadow Account, published in 2004, investment banker Conner Ashby receives an e-mail not intended for him that refers to fraud in an entity named Project Delphi. Not long afterwards he finds his life is in danger.
L. Marguerite Shakespeare
Insurance is all about taking risks and Lloyds of London is the world’s most famous insurance market. As long ago as 1936 Hollywood recognised its dramatic potential with the film Lloyds of London which made a star of Tyrone Power. The film was set in the time of Admiral Nelson. The Lloyds of the present day also has plenty of potential for the thriller writer since it has been dogged by controversies since the late 1980s. However the field has been largely monopolised by Marguerite Shakespeare. She was born in Wales but went to school in England and afterwards studied at the University of Cambridge. She lives in London. A principal source of her knowledge of financial topics is her husband, David Evers, who has long worked for Lloyds of London.
The title of her first novel, Utmost Good Faith, which was published in 1987, is also the motto of Lloyds. The chief character, Roger Collingham, is a leading underwriter in the marine market who is engaged in a duel with a competitor that threatens his business and reputation when he stumbles on a plot to defraud himself and Lloyds, which, if successful, would have a vastly damaging effect on marine insurance world-wide. Her second novel, the Gentlemen’s Mafia, is about a crooked underwriter who exploits the system that depends absolutely on the honour of its participants, to bleed the private wealth of his backers, the Names. Poisoning the Angels, Marguerite Shakespeare’s third novel is partly set in Lloyds and partly in the Mojave Desert. Santhill, a leading American chemical company, is ordered by the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up an old toxic waste dump on its land but, the costs turn out to be much greater than envisaged and threaten to bankrupt the company. Santhill’s lawyer is determined to find a solution even if it involves insurance fraud and possibly murder.
At the time of writing (January 2003), Marguerite Shakespeare’s books are out of print but it is often possible to get second hand copies from dealers such as Abebooks.co.uk and Albris, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com also sell second hand books in addition to new ones.
Until Bronson, Davies, Ridpath and Frey appeared on the scene one of the very few popular novelists who could portray the financial world with the authoritative knowledge of a genuine insider was Paul Erdman who, as mentioned in an earlier section, turned to writing when he found himself in a Swiss jail after one of his deals contravened that country’s laws. Since his first successes in the 1970s he has continued to write highly popular works in this genre including, The Palace, Zero Coupon, and The Set Up. The Swiss Account is credited with having helped to put the World Jewish Congress on the track of the Nazi gold and Jewish property lost in World War II.
Michael M. Thomas
Thomas, like Erdman, is one of the rare breed of insiders who started writing financial fiction in the 1970s (see the earlier section) and has continued ever since. Among the books he wrote in the 90s are Black Money and Baker’s Dozen. He wrote a weekly column for the New York Observer in which he frequently discussed the misuses of money and power. In 2009, after a gap of over a decade, his eighth novel, Love & Money, was published.
Klas Eklund and Karl G. Sjödin
Klas Eklund is the chief economist of a Swedish bank, a post he has held since 1994, and is also a member of the EU Commission’s Group of Economic Advisers. He is the author of well over 600 articles in journals and newspapers as well as a number of books, including the best-selling Swedish economics text-book, one book on the budget deficit and one on the Swedish tax system. In co-operation with Karl G. Sjödin he wrote a financial thriller, Läckan (Leaks), that was published by Tidens Förlag in 1990. Läckan deals with insider trade and murder in the Ministry of Finance. It was later made into a Swedish TV series that was broadcast in 1994. So far Läckan is Klas Eklund’s only novel but Karl G Sjödin has subsequently written a number of others.
Rather than becoming a full-time writer John McLaren has kept his original job as a director of the Morgan Grenfell bank. His Press Send was first published in 1997. The story involves venture capitalists and a break through in artificial intelligence. It is worth noting that one of the leading British university departments of artificial intelligence is at Edinburgh, McLaren’s home town. The Hebrides might seem an unlikely setting for a thriller by a banker but it is there that the main character of 7th Sense learns how to see into the future and applies this skill to the lottery. Black Cabs deals with three London taxi drivers who set out to make a killing on the stock market after eavesdropping on takeover discussions, only to discover just how ruthless the financial community can be. Running Rings centres on a criminal gang whose fortunes have taken a turn for the worse. Like other failing businesses they turn to management consultants for help …
Christopher Reich is an American, born in Tokyo, who worked for the Union Bank of Switzerland, which is the biggest Swiss bank. In 1995 he decided to pursue writing full-time. His debut novel, Numbered Account is about an American Nick Neumann who takes a job with the United Swiss Bank, his father’s former employer, in the hope of solving his father’s murder, but finds himself caught up in a much wider web of crime. Reich’s second novel, The Runner,is about the hunt for a former SS officer, but for his third book, The First Billion, Reich returned to the financial world. The CEO of investment firm Black Jet Securities is about to float Russia’s leading media company on the New York Stock Exchange but rumours of fraud jeopardise the deal. Then, after a key member of the investment firm disappears in Moscow, a threat emerges to international relations and the global economy. In 2003 Reich released The Devil’s Banker, a novel dealing with counter-terrorism, and in particular the attempts to combat terrorist groups by disrupting their financial networks, including those relying on hawala the centuries old, informal system of money transfer popular in the Middle East and the Indian sub-continent.
“Stephen Rhodes” is the pseudonym of Keith Styrcula, who graduated from Ithaca College and became a lawyer. While working as a director and counsel in the equity derivatives structured products group at Warburg Dillon Reed he wrote the novel Velocity of Money involving a scheme to drive down stock market prices by using automated trading programs that target derivatives with the intention of producing the biggest stock market crash since the Wall Street Crash of 1929.
Paul Kilduff spent six years in London working with a US securities house and an inter-national banking group. He returned to live and work in Dublin in 1995, where he is a Vice-President with the investment bank, Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. He began writing in his spare time the following year, and in 1999 his first novel Square Mile was published. The thriller begins with the violent death of a director of a London-based global investment bank and the trail of evidence leads to the Far East and the uncovering of an intricate international scandal. He followed up that novel with The Dealer. A few days after the multi-billion-pound takeover of Provident Bank is announced the body of the bank’s finance director is fished from the Thames. In 2001 The Frontrunnerfirst appeared. It deals with the world-wide reverberations of the assassination of the Chinese prime minister on a visit to Hong Kong and the attempt of the central banks to prevent a global meltdown. Paul Kilduff’s fourth novel, The Headhunter, is due out in March 2003. A serial killer is on the loose when two young traders discover some surprising connections between the apparently random murders and someone close to home.
Lesley Campbell, a former London Metal Exchange trader from Glasgow with 20 years of experience in the metal markets, published her first novel Forged Metal in 1998. The thriller draws on her own experience of work in Russia. The heroine, the head of futures trading at a London metal brokerage, visits giant aluminum smelters in Siberia and discovers that Western industrialists are exploiting the Russians, negotiating contracts way below their true value. She devises a way to help the Russians but discovers that doing business in that country is much more hazardous than working in the City. That was true in fact as well as fiction. The period 1994-1998 in the Krasnoyarsk region in Siberia was known as the “Great Patriotic Aluminium War” because businessmen, financiers, politicians and gangsters were all engaged in a struggle for control of the aluminium industry.
In 1996 the activities of the rogue trader Yasuo Hamanaka in the copper market caused even greater losses for Sumitomo than those suffered by Barings Bank due to Nick Leeson the previous year. Two years later the copper markets were the setting for the thriller The Copper Club by Patrick Bell, a commodities trader who has worked in Sydney, New York, and London.
Harry Bingham originally worked in mergers and acquisitions for Morgan Grenfell, an American investment bank but shortly after moving to Sumitomo his wife, also a Londoner, developed a very serious illness from which she is only slowly recovering and consequently he gave up work to take care of her. In his spare moments he turned to writing and his first novel The Money Makers was published in February 2000. The will of a wealthy Yorkshire industrialist leaves his three sons and one daughter with nothing but the chance to win the entire inheritance. Whichever one of them has one million pounds in his bank account at the end of three years will inherit everything. Bingham’s second novel, Sweet Talking Money is about collaboration between a scientist who achieves a revolutionary medical breakthough and a financier in their attempt to build a major company based on the scientist’s work. It was published in April 2001. His latest book, The Sons of Adam is set in the oil industry.
Regan Ashbaugh, an executive with a brokerage firm spent the better part of 20 years in investment banking before writing his first novel Downtick. It was not until after his first-born son was diagnosed as being autistic that he started writing part-time, and some of the earnings from his novels are used to support the Southern Maine Autism Resource Center which he established. Ashbaugh also still works as a stockbroker. Downtick is the story of a Wall Street trader who moves to Maine to try and escape from a psychopath. In his second thriller, In the Red, Ashbaugh makes use not only of his financial expertise but also experience as a volunteer firefighter as the story involves an arsonist with a grudge against a Wall Street firm.
Derrick Niederman, is a mathematician turned securities analyst and an author of a number of books on investing. A Killing on Wall Street first published in the United States and Great Britain in 2000, is an unusual book in that it is intended to be both a guide to investing, like his non-fiction work, and also a murder mystery. See also the entry for Niederman in the section on Social Commentators, Journalists and Educators.
Victor Sperandeo and Alvaro Almeida
Victor Sperandeo is an experienced Wall Street Trader and author of a couple of books about his trading strategies and Alvaro Almeida is the nom de plume of an attorney who has won several landmark cases in the Supreme Court of the United States and has written numerous legal monographs and journal articles. Together they teamed up to write the Cra$hmaker, a novel about a plot to cause the crash of the the Federal Reserve System with the expectation that Congress would respond by abolishing both the Federal Reserve and income tax and introducing other free-market reforms.
David Schofield has worked for American and European investment banks in New York, Frankfurt and London where he now lives. He had first hand experience of the financial crisis that struck the economies of the “Asian tigers” in 1997. In October 2001 David Schofield published a novel, the Pegasus Forum about a plot to destroy the economy of Japan, masterminded by an Oxford economist who has been nominated for a Nobel Prize. The paperback version was published by Simon & Schuster under the title of Meltdown in 2003.
Johnny John Heinz
Johnny John Heinz is the pen name of Fred Piechoczek who pursued a career in international banking, travelling and conducting business all over the world. Today he assists companies seeking access to the international financial markets, runs a publishing business and writes. Means to an end is set in the world of money laundering, financial manipulation and greed, where a shadowy Middle Eastern organisation takes on a major corporation in the US.
Geoffrey Sambrook, has been a metal trader for 20 years, seeing the collapse of the International Tin Council, the Sumitomo Affair and numerous other market shenanigans. Tarnished copper brings an insider’s unique insight into the way markets can be manipulated for profit. It is set against the background of the London Metal Exchange but the action ranges from London to Hong Kong to New York to Tokyo to the Alpes Maritimes.
Annette Meyers, a former assistant to Broadway producer Hal Prince, spent 16 years as a headhunter on Wall Street, and is currently an arbitrator with the National Association of Securities Dealers. She is a past president of Sisters in Crime and is a member of the Executive Committee of the International Association of Crime Writers. Meyers claims that a good headhunter is by nature an instinctive detective and among the novels she has written are those in the Smith and Wetzon series about two women headhunters, who stumble over bodies on Wall Street and Broadway.
In August 2001 Bob Williamson, who was then the chief finance officer of vFinance Inc. published his first novel, a murder mystery called The Seriously Pink V. By that time Williamson had 16 years of experience at chief finance officer with three different firms in the Miami area. His original intention, when he started writing, was to chronicle the the start-up phase of a technology company he founded in 1985 but instead he used it as the basis of a unpublished fictional story. The Seriously Pink V, is the follow up to that earlier work. The main character, Tom Hudson, is a venture capitalist and much of the action takes place in Miami so Williamson draws on work background and knowledge of locations in the story. In July 2002 Bob Williamson left vFinance to start his own company.
An expert in taxation, on which he has written numerous articles in professional journals, Cardwell has been a financial consultant to international businesses for 25 years and has also been the tax director of one of the Big Five accounting firms. His first novel, Dot Com, was published in 2002 and features an entrepreneur whose dot com company is investigated by the SEC because of an accounting irregularity. The financial issues are a backdrop for a plot which pits American business against Japanese criminal elements.
David Charters, a partner in the Barchester Group a specialist corporate finance and strategic advisory firm, published a collection of short stories called No Tears: Tales from the Square Mile in September 2002. Many of the 25 stories centre on cultural clashes between British bankers and the new American, German or Swiss owners of their institutions. Charters, who had previously worked for the UK Foreign Office, joined SG Warburg’s equity syndicate desk in 1988 and in 1995 moved to Deutsche Morgan Grenfell. At Deutsche Bank he was heavily involved in the privatisation of both British Telecom and Deutsche Telekom but he left in 2000 and subsequently became a partner in the Barchester Group, a specialist corporate finance and strategic advisory firm. One of the other partners there is John McLaren, himself a successful author (see above), who encouraged Charters to take his stories to a publisher.
The second collection of short stories by Charters, I Love You … and Other Lies, deals with the problems of relationships between the sexes, and more specifically, broken marriages. He returned to banking as the theme of his next book, At Bonus Time, No-One Can Hear You Scream. Originally he had intended it to be a short story but, as it developed in writing, it turned into a highly original novel (with photographs) giving a day-by-day account of life in the extreme situations that the City produces. The bank in which the principal characters work, Bartons, is described in a not by the author as “borrowing the ugliest aspects of the soulless finance factories of Wall Street, while missing the lessons that the best US investment banks could have offered to help ensure an independent future for more British firms.
The sequel to At Bonus Time, No-One Can Hear You Scream, Trust Me, I’m A Banker appeared in 2007. It follows the adventures of David Hart as he takes over a German bank and attempts to transform it into a major player on the world money markets.
Ken Morris worked for 20 years on Wall Street as a stock trader and held important positions with Morgan Stanley, and Prudential-Bache. He joined Drexel Burnham Lambert just months before the notorious junk bond scandals broke. What Michael Millikan, one of the most controversial figures in the financial world, is supposed to have told him illustrates the values of the period. “Ken, your value as a human being is solely determined by how much money you make for me. For this firm. And for yourself.” Morris retired at the age of 39. Until 1998 he did financial consulting but now concentrates on writing. Man in the Middle, his first novel, came out in 2003 and tells the story of a man thrust into the world of hedge funds who realises that he must get out after discovering that the deaths of several people were not what they seemed. Morris’s second novel, The Deadly Trade published in 2004 deals with international finance and terrorism.
Michael Culp worked for 27 years on Wall Street. He started his career with Standard & Poor’s, later moved to E. F. Hutton, and then Prudential Securities where in 1986 he became director of research. Culp subsequently worked for PaineWebber Inc. in the same capacity. His wife, Deborah Bronston, also pursued a career as an analyst and associate director at leading securities firms. In November 2000 Michael Culp retired and devoted the next couple of years to writing his first novel, Conflicted, which is set in a Wall street research department and, as its title suggests, deals with the conflicts of interest that arise in investment banks.
Peter Spiegelman, born in New York City, spent over twenty years in the financial services and software industries, working with a variety of commercial banks, brokerages, and central banks before a partner in a banking software company. In the late 1990s he and and his partners sold the business to a larger firm and in 2001 Peter Spielgelman left software industry to write. His first novel, Black Maps, was published in 2003 and features John March who left his family’s merchant bank to become a rural deputy sheriff and, after personal tragedy, ends up as a private investigator. His next two novels,Death’s Little Helpers and Red Cat also featured John March.
Robert Kelsey was a trade magazine reporter writing on the arcane subject of structured finance. After writing a piece criticising NatWest he got to know Gary Mulgrew, the boss of Natwest’s structured finance department, who offered him a job. Subsequently Kelsey wrote a novel based on his experience, The Pursuit of Happiness: Overpaid, Oversexed and Over There. Kelsey had worked closely with Gary Mulgrew, Giles Darby and David Bermingham, three Natwest bankers who later were controversially accused by the American authorities of conspiring with two members of the US energy giant Enron to defraud Natwest of $7 million. Thinly desguised portraits of those three bankers are included in the novel.
Polly Courtney studied mechanical engineering in Cambridge and after a brief stint with an automotive engineering consultancy started a graduate trainee job at Merrill Lynch in the City of London. Her experiences in the cut-throat world of high finance convinced her that investment banking was not for her but she put those experiences to good use in writing the novel Golden Handcuffs, published in 2006, while working as a freelance consultant. She also plays the violin a a semi-professional string quartet and her recreational activities include playing football and snowboarding.