Books: Hypewatch

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The author: Michael Ridpath, an Oxford-educated former bond dealer with the Saudi International Bank who in 1994 forsook his billion-dollar portfolio when 30 publishers rushed to buy his first financial thriller, Free to Trade. A swift seven-figure return ensued.

The book: The Marketmaker (Michael Joseph, pounds 10), third of Ridpath's megabuck intrigues, with a dual location in Rio and Canary Wharf. Unworldly academic Nick Elliot joins the high-rolling Latin American team of a City broking firm. His charismatic boss, the suave maestro of "Argy discos" and other dodgy derivatives, looks as if he has a finger in other, less than licit pies: laundering narco-dollars, kidnap, murder. The tyro turns sleuth as the paper chase turns nasty and his Brazilian amour disappears...

The deal: The name's Bond: Eurobond. Ridpath shrewdly twigged that, in the post-Cold War world, the mysteries of casino capitalism exert the same allure of mingled risk and thrill that tales of espionage once had. For agents, read dealers; for secret services, frontier-hopping finance firms. So he arrived as manna from heaven (in red braces) just as Le Carre and co lost their grip on reality. Hence the frantic marketing buzz: the book trade has seen the future for hi-tech thrillers, and it deals rather than spies.

The goods: Yes, we learn plenty about the shady markets in electronic cash. And the denouement neatly overturns all those John Buchan cliches that would pit slimy dagoes against upright public-school chaps. Yet, for a supposedly fast-moving yarn set on the dangerous edge of Big Money, this is sedate and even genteel stuff. Nick hankers after his beloved Russian writers and his girlfriend dreams of putting footloose capital to use in rebuilding Rio's shanty towns (what would the Essex barrow-boys make of that?). We do grasp that "all this great new Latino business isn't as kosher as it might be", but Ridpath still lets the global system off the hook and dumps all blame on a few rotten apples.

The verdict: Short on mayhem, but rich in atmosphere, The Marketmaker yields a literate but rather low-key read. Ridpath can fascinate but he seldom shocks (there's nothing to rival Nick Leeson here). That would take a tougher line on funny-money rackets than he's prepared to hold. You can take the dealer out of the City but (it seems) you can't take the City out of the dealer.

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