By Richard Old
Published by Regional Magazine Company (£8.95)
(Buy at Amazon)
Given the golden combination of vast amounts of money and constant scandal, you’d think that the City of London and Wall Street would be popular settings for novels. Yet surprisingly few are set in the financial world.
Perhaps the steady stream of competition from insider memoirs gives the impression that the truth is more interesting than any fiction. But Fat Chancer, written by ex-financier Richard Old, shows that financial acumen and literary ability are not mutually exclusive.
Set in a dystopian version of the near future, in which the economy has gone back into recession, the plot centres on institutional broker Andy Wirksworth, the ‘fat chancer’ of the title.
His intuitive ability to anticipate which shares to buy (and which to avoid) has enabled him to prosper, despite his outsider status and the open contempt of his colleagues. However, his abilities also excite the attention of the European regulatory authorities, led by the Merkel-like Greta Bugge, and a shadowy American banker.
What really sets Fat Chancer apart is Old’s ability to combine the razor-sharp comedy of a satirical novel with the pace of a thriller. The nasty-but-dim former public schoolboys, vulgar tycoons and ravenous Eurocrats who populate the novel are clearly stereotypes. However, they are described, and behave, in a way that makes them seem completely credible.
This suggests that the author has been taking extensive notes during his time at various city firms, including Merrill Lynch, Dresdner Kleinwort and ABN Amro. Even the penultimate outrageous plot twist, which is reminiscent of a Tom Sharpe novel, seems plausible.
Another strength of the book is its cynicism, which mirrors that of the unsentimental environment in which it takes place. The truly incompetent frequently manage to escape the consequences of their actions.
The backstabbing and calculation aren’t limited to the City players: wives, strippers and, in one delicious scene, even a toilet cleaner, demonstrate their financial nous.
There are only a few minor quibbles. A chief one is the large number of different characters. While a “cast list” is provided at the start, it’s easy to lose track of who is who. One explanation for this may be that Old is laying the framework for one or more sequels.
However, Fat Chancer is a well-written novel that is definitely worth reading. It could easily be adapted into either a film or television mini-series. We look forward to the return of Andy Wirksworth.
• Fat Chancer by Richard Old is published by Regional Magazine Company (£8.95).