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Baker, Martin - 'Meltdown'
Hardback: 400 pages (Jan. 2008) Publisher: Macmillan ISBN: 0230530303

"Do you know who you're working for?" is the question under the title on the cover of this financial thriller. At first, the answer seems to be a Rupert Murdoch-like figure, as an exhaustively detailed head-hunting exercise is carried out on his behalf by a grizzled newspaper editor to pinpoint the one man in the world who can go undercover into the Paris stock exchange as a broker, and by so doing find out who masterminded the purchase of the French publishing company from under the nose of the "Murdoch-alike". Somehow, this is all connected to a plot to destroy the world's financial markets.

So far, so good. But once Samuel, the Oxford academic identified as the man for this intricate job, starts working in the Paris bank, the plot becomes considerably less intriguing and a lot more casually formulaic. Samuel works for the charismatic "Kahn", the top trader of the Ropner Bank. Nobody seems to know just how Kahn is so successful, least of all his jealous colleagues, and Samuel has to find out - without any of them spotting what he is up to. Unfortunately, one never actually learns how Kahn hangs onto his financial alpha-male role, as essential plot details are skated over. Only a week or two after I finished the book, the Jerome Kerviel scandal broke (the case of the French rogue trader at Societe Generale who caused an international banking crisis). The newspaper accounts of that affair were far more exciting and informative about financial dealings than the descriptions in MELTDOWN. In the book, instead of maintaining the focus and momentum of the promising set-up, as would have been the case in, say, a Lee Child thriller, we instead rapidly lurch into a familiar scenario in which Samuel and the "extremely sexy but possibly gay" (but in the event, succumbing to Samuel's charms) woman friend of the "most attractive female trader at the bank" are on the run from the bank's management, the French police, Kahn, customs, the editor's henchmen, and assorted mysterious gangsters, as they head for Oxford and the "only person Samuel can trust" (yes, that cliche), his old college tutor.

By the end of the book, I wasn't sure why the French publishing theme had even been introduced; I couldn't understand how Samuel kept getting into and out of sticky situations or why; and I couldn't understand the connection to and reasons for the "meltdown" of the world's financial markets threatened by the title. I'm happy to accept that this is a failing in me, as I was finding it hard to pay full attention. The flat, cartoonish characters, and the periodic introductions of a little S&M and similar peccadilloes bolted-on apparently to maintain (male?) reader interest, just left me bored. If you want to read an excitingly tense book about the moral corruption of corporate greed, try THE JOB by Douglas Kennedy. I have read two or three books by Michael Ridpath, and although I'm not a massive fan, they are far better "financier thrillers" than this mechanically insipid effort - which rather reminded me in style of the one Jeffrey Archer novel I once half-read.

Maxine Clarke, England
March 2008

Maxine blogs at

last updated 2/03/2008 21:22