Friday, 30 January 2009

Financial Suicides

In The Spectator this week, I've been writing about the number of financial suicides. It is a fascinating subject, not least for the way it covered by the mainstream media. Every time a financier kills himself after losing a pile of money, it is reported as normal, explicable event. But of course it is not normal at all. Juts because you are suddenly poor doesn't mean life is no longer worth living. Nor does it fix anything, as Michael Lewis pointed out in a piece for Bloomberg. It just adds to the sum total of misery that a financial collapse creates.

Thursday, 29 January 2009


I've been noting elsewhere that 2009 is shaping up into the year of the mercenary. Maybe I'm just noticing it more because of course Death Force is about a unit of mercenaries. But the upcoming Sylvester Stallone film The Expendables, the new A Team movie, plus plenty of computer games featuring mercs suggests its rich teritory for thriller and adventure writers. It certainly seems that way to me. As characters, mercenaries are completely flexible. They can seek out trouble, they can get involved in all kinds of wars, and yet they are still their own men, answerable to no one apart from their conscience and their wallet. They are, in fact, the closest you can find to cowboys in the modern world. And a writer can't find a much better subject than that.

Monday, 26 January 2009

The Daily Express Reviews Death Force

There is a great review of 'Death Force' in the Daily Express.

"I’VE long been a fan of Andy McNab’s SAS-style thrillers, and a complete sucker for caper movies, so I was anticipating a good time long before I settled back with Matt Lynn’s military adventure – and I wasn’t to be disappointed.

A former journalist, Lynn has helped write several similar books with other authors and
he’s brought all that experience to bear in this cracking action thriller. The location is Afghanistan’s notorious Helmand Province, where the British Army is being hamstrung in
its efforts to quash the Taliban by their over-cautious masters back in the UK.

It doesn’t help that the bad guys are being funded by a local drugs baron, whose millions allow them to afford all the latest weaponry.

That’s where Dudley Emergency Forces, or DEF, come in. What prefers to be known these days as a Private Military Corporation, it specialises in supplying well-trained, experienced
veterans to do the jobs the regulars aren’t allowed to. The money may be better, but the
chances of ending up a bloody corpse are even greater, that’s why they call it Death Inc.

Former SAS man Steve West is charged with putting together a 10-man team to take
down the drug dealer and stop the supply of arms to the Taliban. The sweetener? They get to keep the $50million in diamonds and gold he keeps stashed away in his fortress.
Simple, all they have to do is arm themselves, come up with a plan and storm an impregnable compound in one of the most deadly environments on Earth while knowing that, if anything
goes wrong, they’re on their own.

In a tale that combines the effects of Three Kings and Dogs of War, you can taste the dust and smell the blood as Steve and his hastily thrown-together team go into battle against what they
expect to be a formidable foe... and some foes they didn’t expect to be facing at all.

Lynn plans Death Force to be the first in a series. I can’t wait to read the rest."

Friday, 23 January 2009

Banks, Banks and More Banks

I appear to have been either writing or talking about banks all week. On France 24 I took part in a pretty good discussion about the bonus culture, which you can see here. In the Spectator, I've been writing about the problems with the private banks. Over on Bloomberg, I've been looking at the run of mistakes and misjudgements that led to the collapse of Royal Bank of Scotland. From the Bloomberg column I got lots of response from former RBS bankers about just how badly the bank was run. My favorite was a story about how the head office in Edinburgh decided the receptionists around the world had to wear tartan uniforms, ignoring the fact that in countries like Singapore and Malaysia it was far too hot. That perfectly illustrates how little they understood the markets they were operating in.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Sinking Pound, Sinking Brown

On Ladbrokes you can get 40/1 on Jack Straw being Prime Minister by the end of this year. I reckon that is a pretty good bet. The pound is sinking like a stone, and the markets have turned negative on the UK economy. It doesn't look like Gordon Brown understands just how dependent on foreign cpaital the British economy, or indeed his own government, has become. And who wants to lend money in a currency that is collapsing?

In my Bloomberg column at the start of the year one of my predictions for 2009 was that Britain would have to call in the IMF to bail it out. I was, to some degree, kidding around. Now it is looking more and more likely all the time.

If it happened, I don't think Brown could stand the humiliation. He'd have to resign as part of the rescue package. In those circumstances, Jack Straw would be the most likely person to takeover as a caretaker Prime Minister, holding the fort until an election the following spring. So, in effect, the bet is 40/1 against the UK going bust. Those odds look too generous to me. After all, the figures say we are.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

The News of The World Reviews Death Force

There is a great review of 'Death Force' in the News of the World, Britain's Biggest selling newspaper.

"Take 10 hardened mercenaries - ex SAS types from around the world - give them all a desperte background, then offer them $3 million for one last job in lawless Afghanistan (If this is conuring up images of Ross Kemp and Chuck Norris you're on track).

It is a sure-fire recipe for a Boy's-Own adventure guaranteed to get the pulse racing.

And Matt Lynn's novel is up there with the finest that Andy McNab or Chris Ryan have ever penned.

The characters are belivable, the story pulls you in and there are enough turns to keep you gripped. Fun enough to get through in one sitting."

Overall, it gives the book four stars.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Panic by Michael Lewis

I just received a copy of Michael Lewis's anthology 'Panic' from the publishers. Michael included one of my pieces, so obviously I liked it: it's flattering to be included in a collection of the best writing on the financial markets of the best quarter-century. Lewis makes an interesting point in his introduction, arguing that the 1987 crash was the start of a long period of periodic financial crisis. He is certainly onto something. My own view is that for a long-time we swapped a business cycle for a financial cycle: there was occasional financial collapses, but underneath it, the real economy sailed on largely unscathed. It seemed to me that was improvement. Now it looks like we may have broken the pattern, and the financial crisis is going to trigger an economic crisis. But we can't be sure of that, of course.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Alistair MacLean

I wonder if anyone reads Alistair MacLean anymore? I used to read his books as a kid, and, of course, I loved the films he scripted, such as Where Eagles Dare, and The Guns of Navarone. He helped create the British action, adventure genre, and has been a big influence on 'Death Force'. It will have been subliminal, however, since it is many years since I read one. So I picked up 'The Golden Rendezvous' from a local charity shop. It's about as good as I remember them. Some of the writing is a bit loose by modern standards, and the characters are naturally enough old-fashioned in their attitudes and sensibilities (the book was published in 1962, the year I was born, so that is hardly surprising). But the plot holds up fantastically well, the pacing is razor-sharp, the action scenes are note perfect. He certainly deserves to be up there with the likes of John Buchan.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Death Force Review In City AM

There is a great review of Death Force in City AM by Jeremy Hazlehurst. "'The sweat and smoke and stench of a Baghdad brothel at two in the morning are enough to turn even the strongest stomach,' begins this novel, and it goes unrelentingly on in the same zippy, devil-may-care vein." After a brief description, it continues. "Their world is drawn with skill and detail - people keep blood plasma in the fridge and take rocket propelled grenades into bars - and for all its bravado and machismo, it is a belivable setting, with its black humour and brutal violence, hard-drinking and casual sex. And while these boys are tough, they're not to tough to wear chinos or iron their jeans. If you like this sort of thing, this is a well-told, cracking tale of manly doings in a shadowy environment."

Thursday, 8 January 2009

The UK Economy Keeps Sinking

The Bank of Ireland's statement this morning that it was running down its UK mortgage business - with a total of £29 billion in outstanding loans - is a small but telling illustration of why this is going to be a very tough recession for the UK. It is precisely those flows of forign capital that have kept the UK so bouyant. Thirty billion here and there soon adds up. But those taps are now being turned off. With sterling getting pummelled it will be a long time before anything replaces it. The UK will have to re-balance itself more towards exports but it will be a long hard struggle.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

The Hedge Fund Catastrophe

FT Alphaville is one of my favorite financial sites - it is about the first thing I log into when I turn on my computer - so I was pleased to see they ran my Bloomberg column on hedge funds today. Likewise The Times. A lot of response to the basic argument, which was that by stopping their investors from taking their money out, the funds were doing a lot of damage to their reputation. One reader pointed out that it was much the same as the ban on short-selling last year - which, of course, the hedge funds objected to loudly. Another pointed out that it was similar to emerging markets closing up for a few days - such as Malaysia, Thailand, or more recently Russia. True enough. The funds are guilty of gross hypocrisy. There were already having a rough time. But I suspect this kind of crass response means they are just about finished.

Monday, 5 January 2009

...And on Wall Street Blips

I hadn't come across Wall Street Blips before but it looks like a useful site that pulls togeher the most read, commented on financial commentary. So I was pleased to see my Bloomberg predictions column featuring on its top list. Likewise, on Infectious Greed, which is already one of my favourite sites.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Predictions in...China

I was pleased to see my Bloomberg column of new year predictions re-printed in the China Post. I'm not sure if I've been in that paper before.

Saving the World...?

The catastrophe of Gordon Brown's response to the recession is becoming clearer by the day. It now looks as if his recuse of the British banking system - which saved the world, let's remember - is falling apart. The papers are reporting that another bail-out is being considered, and this one might involve a 'bad bank' which would take the toxic assets of the bank's balance sheets. Like the original Paulson plan, that makes a lot more sense. You need to drain the toxic assets out of the system before the banks can get back to normal. Brown's plan just pumped more capital into them without fixing the problem - and may well end up with a nationalised banking system, which will just make the problem even worse.

The real problem for the UK is that it was pumped up on a wave of foreign capital, and that has now fled. The botched bank rescue and, even worse, the destruction of the public finances, has scared foreign capital away, and looks likely to push the UK into deep recession.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

International Thriller Writers

I just joined the International Thriller Writers association to start helping to promote 'Death Force', which is out in a couple of weeks time. It looks like a great organisation, even if it is quite US dominated. When I first started publishing as a novelist when 'Insecurity' came out in 1997 I joined the Crime Writers Association. But I found it very dominated by the crime writers and their audience. They are very different, in my judgement. I never read crime books, and the leading writers in the genre I have sampled - such as Ian Rankin - seem to me to be leaden and cliched. Surely the world doesn't need yet another dysfunctional middle-aged copper with a drink problem. The thriller and crime markets are completely seperate and it doesn't make any sense to try and lump them together.