BOOK REVIEW – Billionaire

?    Nothin’ quite like a shot of the Bank of England for a proper City Lit title!

Billionaire was a book I came across via the site Audible.  In the mood for something a bit gritty, with a thriller edge to it, I downloaded on a whim, but thoroughly enjoyed the ‘listening’ experience in the same way one enjoys a good bucket of popcorn;  not particularly nourishing, but just hits the spot in the here and now cinematic moment.

Billionaire’s central set of characters revolve around the London Metal Exchange and the classic short and long selling systems that allow various people to make a helluva profit from gold.  By engineering Middle Eastern politics, a number of different individuals are affected in various ways, but they all share the core facet of greed, to keep us all paying attention.

The book is not a rival for Mantell, Shakespeare, or even Sansom anytime soon, but it is a good old yarn.  I liked the way it took the readers for a good old canter through the macrocosm of world finance, whilst giving us a brief (at times too brief) glimpse of the City of London too.  Billionaire is a book written in 80s London, and at times it feels that way.  The systems are clunky and the pace frustrated in our hyper connected age, but equally, there’s something charming about this good old fashioned thriller.

Billionaire is not going to earn a place in your bookshelf alongside books that have analysed and crystallised the 2008 Financial Crises;  but it doesn’t purport to do that either. It’s a pulpy type fiction that you can consume swiftly and happily, with no lasting hangovers or regrettable memories; much like a good night out in the City itself.

It’s the global settings in this book that do give it a good edge of entertainment.  Car chases in Switzerland, City offices turned over in the middle of the night, a few dead security guards, and the silver tongued investment bank parlance all make for atmospheric fare. To me, the book has an air of John Grisham without the Hollywood overtones or sweet tooth American approach.

As mentioned, Billionaire is not a book that will have a lasting legacy as such, although in its defence I haven’t read anything from 80s London, so perhaps this is the best of the bunch.  James could have given it more bite with more insights to true City culture – but there are a fair few diplomatic incidents and a phenomenally dark scandal with one of the characters that does carry the controversy torch on behalf of the cast list.

All in all, Billionaire is an okay read.  To listen to, it was ideal, as I could tune in and out whilst washing up etc.  I’m not 100% sure that’s the best endearment of a book, but I don’t think it’s the worst either.  Credit where its due to James for a good effort to tackle finance and thriller all in one gulp.

Marks Out of Ten – 6.5

Who would play the main character, Alex Rocq – someone thin and reedy like Jude Law.


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