The Panama Papers in crime fiction

Yes, these are taxing times for the super-wealthy – particularly those of them in public office – who are finding out that the rest of us would rather they did their bit. The release of the Panama Papers also provides a delicious moment for financial thriller writers and readers. Authors must have their fingers poised over their keyboards, contemplating anew that perennial star of the seven deadlies, greed.

The place of greed in motivating all manner of crime – from white collar schemes to murder to worker exploitation – is right up there with lust and wrath. Much of the more arcane financial chicanery of recent years has been as clearly, or at least as memorably, explained in fiction as in the business pages of leading newspapers and magazines.

Even financial journalists occasionally turn to writing crime, perhaps to dampen their growing frustration towards tax loopholes, selling of sub-prime debt, hedge fund finagling, and so on. The rich get richer by hiding their wealth offshore and neglecting to pay taxes, while the rest of us slog along, feeling HM Revenue and Customs or the IRS nipping at our heels. If it’s making you contemplate some crimes of your own, work off your anger by dipping into these five financial thrillers where, hopefully, they get what’s coming to them…

PaleGreyForGuilt150Pale Gray for Guilt by John D MacDonald
John D MacDonald’s Travis McGee novels are classics by any definition, and the bad guy in this one is the type of financial wheeler-dealer everyone loves to hate – a property developer. Making him even sketchier, he’s a property developer in Florida where the fast growing economy attracted people who thought they could skim off some of the cream and nobody would notice.. The Sunshine State draws these people like flies to a corpse. There’s a coupla those, too, as McGee investigates the death of an old friend. The Kindle version features an introduction by Lee Child.
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GodsofGreenwich150The Gods of Greenwich by Norb Vonnegut
Yes, we know what you’re thinking and, indeed, the author is a distant relation of Kurt Vonnegut. He also writes a Wall Street Journal column for financial advisers, and has authored a number of financial thrillers, including this 2012 novel about a young trader on the brink of financial ruin who signs up to work for LS Capital, a firm not fussy about the letter of the law. The New York Times called it “a gleeful peek at the world of hedge fund moguls.”
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DeadKey150The Dead Key by DM Pulley
This debut thriller came out a year ago, but the story begins in 1978 when a young bank worker discovers some things amiss in the First Bank of Cleveland, just as the city defaults on its loans. The bank abruptly and mysteriously closes and several staff disappear amid allegations of fraud. Twenty years later, a structural engineer is sent to assess the abandoned building’s integrity and starts to unravel the bank’s secrets, which include scandal, theft, and murder. Hats off to the author DM Pulley for landing the 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award with this debut.
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director150The Director by David Ignatius
In this book, The Washington Post political reporter links his usual how-the-CIA-got into-trouble-this-time shenanigans to a scheme that could precipitate a worldwide banking catastrophe, thanks to the hacking skills of the Agency’s chief computer wizard. Gives new meaning to the idea of ‘going rogue.’ It has picked up some great reviews, so try it.
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goodmoneygone150Good Money Gone by Richard Kilborn and Mario Acevedo
This book has received high ratings on Amazon and Goodreads, but not many of them, and has ranked highly in several award competitions. We’re including it mainly because it actually takes place in Panama, “a tropical paradise with an anything-goes attitude.” The story involves offshore finance and a massive Ponzi scheme. Kilborn is based at the University of Stirling and Acevedo in Denver, Colorado.
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See also…
There are number of authors who have specialised in financial thrillers, or at least crime stories where money and greed dominate. It’s no surprise that hedge fund managers very often feature as evildoers and murder victims. Among the authors who have specialised in this sub-genre are UK writer Michael Ridpath, in his earlier books; Stephen Frey, whose readers love him though his plots seem far-fetched; and award-winning Christopher Reich, author of The Prince of Risk, and Numbered Account.

Books where fraud and other dodgy financial practices form a backdrop which have been reviewed on Crime Fiction Lover include:

blackskies200Black Holes by He Jiahong, which is a rare insider’s novel about the investigation of financial crimes in current-day China.

Graveland by Alan Glynn. This one explores the impact of Wall Street machinations on everyday people, some of whom may be out to exact a very personal and deadly revenge.

Black Skies by Arnaldur Indridason. Set in Iceland, where they take their financial crime seriously, as ex-PM Gunnlaugsson knows all too well, in this book the overextension of Iceland’s banks is an important part of the backdrop in this police procedural.

There are plenty more financial thrillers, or crime novels with important financial crime underpinnings. If you’ve got any to share with our readers please post your recommendations in the comments below.

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