The financial world, for all its scandals, crashes and intrigues, has produced remarkably few good novels. Dickens and Zola in their different ways wrote about crashes, and there was of course Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities.
There have also been countless attempts by financial journalists and others with some knowledge of the City to write books about it, but little that got anywhere near the Man Booker list.
Louise Patten, a high-powered former banker and management consultant (she worked for the legendary Bain & Co), has now made her contribution to the genre. Her heroine Mary Kersey, unsurprisingly, is a workaholic management consultant, adviser to banks and acquisitive companies, juggling 12-hour days with a difficult teenage daughter, big house in the country and a continually ringing mobile phone.
As if this were not enough, she is asked by the government to head up a secret inquiry into the hedge fund industry – including the dodgy dealings of some of her own clients. Something has to give, and of course it does.
The book is set in 2005, before the great crash, so everyone is making enormous amounts of money, doing suspect takeover deals and dealing on insider information. No hint of the coming disaster here – maybe we have to wait for the sequel which, on the basis of this book, will be well worth it.
Patten knows her world intimately, and writes with an authority and knowledge which few previous financial novelists have enjoyed. When we stray into complex areas of takeover rules, share price manipulation and the shadowy world of the hedge fund, we know we are being led by an expert who has probably been down this road in real life – as a professional of course, rather than a participant. Her detail is meticulous and authentic, but never gets in the way of the story which moves along at a hectic pace to include some standard characters and villains: a Russian oligarch, an investigative financial journalist, a megalomaniac industrialist, and of course a shady banker.
No one emerges smelling of roses. The Russian oligarch is as unpleasant and corrupt as Russian oligarchs are expected to be, the financial journalist turns out to be part of a complicated insider-trading ring involving her two sisters, the industrialist gets his comeuppance from the journalist before she disappears with her ill-gotten loot, while the banker – well, I won't give the whole plot away entirely.
As for Mary, she decides she has had enough of the Superwoman stuff, and daughter and patient husband are more important than her unpleasant clients, however much they pay. But will she be happy away from it all?Reuse content