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If you listed crimes that looked good on camera you would probably rate the likes of Bank Robbery and Train Heists at the top. You would trundle through a series of less impressive and more disturbing crimes until you entered the world of the white collar criminal. These men and women get away with far more money than any lowly bank robber, but in terms of cinematic spectacle they have little kudos. It would be the same if you transferred the setting to a novel. There are hundreds of books a year written about deranged serial killers, but not many on Mr Briggs the accountant who has been helping his clients evade tax for the past 15 years. The world of financial fraud just ain't that sexy. This has not stopped Peter Spiegelman with his book 'Black Maps', could he put the sex back into the SEBI code of conduct for intermediaries of mutual funds?
Private Investigator John Marsh is not your usual gum shoe. He has most of the credentials right; a dead wife, an ex cop and a loner. However, he is also part of a family that has finance in their blood, with the click of his fingers he could be working in a bank for over $100,000 a year, but he chooses not to. Although he is against working in finance, he is not against investigating it, so when a lawyer friend asks him to help a client, Marsh is the man for the job. Someone is using lost files to blackmail a series of rich bankers and Marsh must find out who it is to protect his client. With millions of dollars at stake, people could kill to get what they want. Can Marsh uncover the blackmailer before they ruin another life?
It is clear from the get go that Spiegelman is someone who has worked in finance during their lifetime. They say write what you know, and he must know the money market. It is also clear that he is a fan of the crime genre, as John Marsh is a creation straight out of the PI handbook - a loner with a chip on his shoulder. Here lies one of the biggest issues that the book, can you integrate a classic action hero into a book about money? The short answer is no. The longer answer is that Spiegelman just about manages to pull it off.
The areas of the book that do not work are those where Spiegelman goes into too much financial detail. I am someone who knows a little bit about economics and banking, and I found the description elements of fraud a little patronising. These are crow barred into the novel and are too basic to be interesting. Whether you are a fan of money or not, no one is going to be interested about the ins and outs of financial irregularities than happened to other characters over 15 years ago. Most authors would use the blackmail elements of the book as a base for some more action orientated writing, Spiegelman does eventually get around to this, but it takes a long time.
This is a shame as he is a decent author when it comes to the action sequences. Certain moments of the book require Marsh to become more physical and they often leave the character battered and bruised. Unlike in some crime fiction I did not think that Marsh was overly beaten (I have read some books in which the character would be clinically dead 5 times over, but still solved the crime). The action set pieces are well written and exciting. They are enhanced by the fact that you cannot help liking the character of Marsh. Although the character is a crime cliché, he works because these clichés exist for a reason. Marsh is up against it from the very beginning and his slightly higher moral code, than those around him, means that you allow him to get away with a few more illegalities, as it is for the common good.
Hidden away within 'Black Maps' is an action crime thriller that Spiegelman wants to get out. The ingredients are all present, but in the wrong quantities. Too much emphasis is spent on describing the intricate financial crimes and not on the act of solving them. As a book, you will either find the over explanation of financial misdeeds dull because it is overly long, or dull because it's overly simplified. Spiegelman would have been better advised to skim over the white collar crime elements and get stuck in with the action. When this does happen the book improves with some impressive action sequences and likable characters. It is just a shame that it takes two thirds of the book for Spiegelman to let his hair down. An interesting, but flawed crime thriller.
Author: Peter Spiegelman
Price: amazon uk - £6.29
play.com - £5.49