Just Business, by Geraint Anderson, Headline, RRP£12.99, 336 pages
Since the credit crunch, investment bankers-cum-authors have fallen over themselves to “break the City’s code of silence” and “reveal its excesses”. Bookshop shelves have been crammed with ever more outlandish tales of greedy bankers gone wild. Tiresome stuff. Having worked in banking myself, it is clear that the people and situations these stories describe are usually caricatures of reality, cherry-picked over years and presented as the norm.
So upon finding that the entire first chapter of Geraint Anderson’s new thriller Just Business was an account of how Steve Jones, a managing director at an investment bank and the book’s main character, entertains clients with a cocaine-fuelled bender in a swanky London nightclub, it was easy to groan “here we go again”.
All bankers have their fair share of bizarre stories. My pre-Financial Times career at a large investment bank and a private equity group yielded plenty (including a managing director who blocked out time in his calendar to “get engaged”). But they constitute just a sliver of what is otherwise a fairly mundane work environment. Basically, the average investment banker’s day goes like this: arrive in the office, create a spreadsheet, eat lunch, go to meetings, eat dinner, work on a PowerPoint presentation, call a car home around midnight. But that does not sell books.
Anderson knows his fans – both in and out of the City – read his work for the juicy gossip. The previously anonymous author of the “City Boy” column in a now defunct London commuter paper, he made his name by making people gasp at the exploits of bankers and their kin. Now retired from his former career as a utilities analyst at an investment bank, he gives talks and writes works inspired by his former daily grind.
In Just Business, Steve finds evidence that his bank is laundering drug money for some dodgy Colombians and tries to blackmail his way into a cut of the proceeds. Whoops, now he’s crossed the wrong people and has to cut and run with his girlfriend Gemma. On his tail are the police, MI5, the Financial Services Authority, goons from a drug cartel, and a high-priced assassin called The Panther (presumably no relation of Frederick Forsyth’s Jackal). Cue an intercontinental chase interspersed with copious illicit drug use.
The most enjoyable parts of this novel are the chase scenes. Anderson clearly knows west London well enough to be a black cab driver and includes sufficient detail to please anyone acquainted with the area. Likewise, the scenes set in Spain, Morocco and India are all composed with a satisfying air of familiarity, even though his dialogue-heavy writing style sometimes comes at the expense of vivid description. Modern colloquialisms pepper the prose to the point that non-Londoners may have to Google some of the jargon (I had to look up “a tinker’s cuss”).
Anderson’s book, though, is as much a diatribe against the City as a novel, and at times the expletive-laced bank-bashing goes too far. At one point banks are even likened to drug cartels, while the greed and arrogance of their employees is consistently decried. In fact, the average journalist sports an ego far in excess of that of the average banker – and fragile journalists can act like spoilt oligarchs if someone disagrees with them.
Just Business may be a fun read but it is not an accurate reflection of investment banking. We are still waiting for a novel to come along and tell us exactly how it is in City – and that, all things considered, may not be such a bad thing.
Luke Templeman writes for the FT’s Lex column