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Book review: City of Thieves

Economics & Finance

Book review: City of Thieves

Book review: City of Thieves

Cyrus Moore’s first novel, ‘City of Thieves’, is well timed. A thriller that puts the boot into bullies and crooks in the city of London and the rest of the financial world may well sell better now that investment bankers are our favourite villains.

It’s a good read. The plot involves sex, money, murder, betrayal and Middle East politics, as well as some East Asian-style philosophising about loyalty and integrity. There’s also a main character out for revenge for what happened to his best friend.

The book isn’t actually about the credit crisis – there are background references to big events every so often. You get the feeling that they were inserted shortly before publication to help the book remain topical.

The action takes place over two years. One morning in 2006, Niccolo Lamparelli, a financial journalist, gets a surprise phone call from Larry Sikorski, the head of research at the powerful and fictional US investment bank, Saracen Laing. Sikorski likes Lamparelli’s articles and offers him more than 150,000 pounds a year – up to a million with bonus – to work as a telecom analyst.

Basic financial advice: if a deal or an investment looks too good to be true, it probably is. Con men say you can’t cheat an honest man. Lamparelli shows no signs of being dishonest but surely a journalist, with no apparent training or background in financial analysis, should be a bit suspicious? He isn’t. Perhaps greed gets the better of him.

Lamparelli’s good friend Jack Ford also works at Saracen Laing. The two men have a mystical bond that was strengthened through shared tragedy on a summer holiday in Okinawa in Japan when they were children.

Lamparelli quickly becomes Saracen Laing’s star analyst. Despite his lack of financial training, he absorbs 40-page profit  statements in less than an hour;  he makes insightful but controversial calls on key companies that go against conventional wisdom, but turn out to be right.

The clients love him. The sales staff love him. But the dealmakers in the mergers and acquisitions department do not like it when Lamparelli starts to recommend clients to sell shares in companies that are big customers of Saracen.

Sikorski pressures Lamparelli to cheer up his gloomy outlook on a key telecom company. Of course, like any professional analyst should, Lamparelli refuses. And that’s when things turn nasty for Lamparelli and his friend Ford. Sikorski needs pliant analysts for his lucrative but illegal market manipulation to work. How far will he screw with them? Quite far, it seems. Sikorski’s a monster.

The author is obviously good at numbers and analysis. His description of deals feels authentic, as you might expect from a former telecom analyst. ‘Cyrus Moore’ is actually the writing name of Cyrus Mewawalla, who left investment banking after 20 years to set up a research boutique. There are several similarities between Moore and his main character. They both went to the same international school in Japan, for example.

The writing is to the point. That’s not such a bad thing for a thriller writer, as the plot is usually more important than nuanced character development. (The flashbacks to Lamparelli’s boyhood in Japan are more flowery, and do not hit the mark as well as the rest of the book.)

The characters are a post-national mix of Anglo-American-Euro-Asians – much as you would expect in a modern financial institution. They are simply drawn. Introductory descriptions too often read like career and personal synopses for speakers at conferences. Characters are defined by what they consume and where they live. For example, we are told the top saleswoman drives her Aston Martin DB9 every morning from Notting Hill to the city. This even extends to dialogue. A character describes Sikorski as having a mind with “more moving parts than a Patek Phillipe” watch.

The dialogue does get tiresome. Moore often ends sections with some contrived simile, such as the analyst who concludes a TV interview on the prospects for private equity by saying “this baby’s like Jerry Hall – it’s an old story with long legs.”

Real dealing rooms are full of data terminals from Reuters and Bloomberg. The fictional dealing rooms in ‘City of Thieves’ have Reuters machines, but none from Bloomberg. They do, however, have terminals from a company called Kloomberg. Coincidentally, Kloomberg’s offices are in Finsbury Square – as are Bloomberg’s.

Of course, one big difference is that Kloomberg has sluttish short-skirted saleswomen; one of them takes money to seduce clients and get information from them. I’m sure Bloomberg would not tolerate such behaviour.

City of Thieves by Cyrus Moore is published by Sphere. (Paperback: 416 pages)

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