THE WESTERN BANKER - Joe Barrett
THE WESTERN BANKER is Barrett's first book, set in the world of International Bankers and high finances, a world that the author undoubtedly knows a lot about. The book takes a slightly unusual approach in that the central character is... not to put too fine a point on it .... a bit of a bastard. Obsessed with the pursuit and the trappings of money, he's pretty well amoral in his working life, and a bit tacky in his personal life. There's also just a hint of sadness (and self-awareness of that sadness) in Alex that makes him a fascinating character. On one hand he could quite conceivably revolt the reader as a no-conscious manipulating money grabbing grub, and on the other hand he's a figure of some sadness. Lonely, no mates, no meaningful relationships, can't even manage to keep an apple in his fridge type. In the process of doing just another finance deal which has the potential to win his bank a lot of money, to say nothing of his own commission and bang, he's confronted with something that actually makes him uncomfortable, squeamish about the possible outcomes of the deal. Of course, you then go further up the chain in terms of seniority and responsibility within the Bank and you find that Alex is probably a bit of a rank amateur at being a bastard compared to the directors of his bank - and coincidentally The World Bank.
Barrett is also not afraid to do something pretty daring with this book - just when you start to feel some sympathy for his central character (or just before you want to track down a fictional character and slap him for being a prat), something major happens. Whilst the reader is dealing with that - the truth of the finance deal gets more and more serious and the games that people play become deadly.
It's a first novel - there are a couple of odds and ends that don't quite jell - including one particular incidence of geography where the US President seems to be having a meeting in an office not that geographically far from a major incident. That just didn't seem practical, prudent or even likely to be occurring and it jarred dreadfully. Possibly because most of the rest of the action had seemed almost believable in a vaguely disconcerting sort of a way. By then we were only 10 or so pages from the end of the book and it was rolling along at a massive pace so, sure, this reader was jolted out of the story and madly scrambling for an Atlas (US Geography being just one of the things that I'm not very good at). In the global scheme of things - it was a minor point in what was otherwise a really enjoyable first thriller novel.
Alex Johnson is a high-flying and unscrupulous London banker; a friend to government ministers and power brokers. He closes the deal and takes his cut - several million pounds at a time. Concerned only by how much he will make, with each deal he becomes wealthier, harder and more confident until the day he learns of a nuclear weapon in a cache of arms destined for the Middle East.
In the murky world of international arms deals, Alex's conscience is challenged for the first time as he faces the reality that the fall-out from this deal may be nuclear. Pursued by Mossad he must now make the decision of his life ...