Sunday, 2 August 2009

“The Headhunter”, Paul Kilduff

There is a certain poignancy to reading an early 21st century financial thriller in late 2009. The wholescale discrediting of the financial sector over the last 12 months has led to an inherent and unsurprised linkage in most people's minds between criminality and banking, which lends a crime novel set in a more earnest era, where there was a grain of respectability to the profession, a somewhat quaint air. Indeed it almost feels natural, that if bankers are capable of destroying livelihoods, then why should it be surprising that at least one of them is capable of being a serial killer?

Highly reminiscent of Michael Ridpath's series of crime novels with a financial setting, "The Headhunter" capitalises on the rich background provided by the Square Mile and Canary Wharf, to set a tale of corporate corruption and murder. While the identities of the perpetrators is revealed comparatively early (and in retrospect there are a couple of additional cross-cultural clues that should make it obvious from the outset) the motivations are explored progressively over the course of the novel, and Kilduff manages to preserve mounting tension and genuine curiosity about how the book will pan out.

The main characters, Adam the young, new FX trader, Samantha the harassed woman trader, Bruce the consummate player, and Henry, the city recruitment consultant, are rounded, well painted, and can be identified with, and they are ably backed by a cast of supporting figures, all of whom are believable. That is, of course, not to say that they are all sympathetic, indeed some are truly odious, but given the setting this comes as no surprise. The main characters however are ones that you can readily identify with and care about their fates, which is critical for a novel such as this.

In a book like this authenticity is key, and here Kilduff, drawing one assumes on his personal experience in banking, scores highly. The lives of bankers are seen as lavish, but transient, luxury flats being furnished by letting companies, or strangely empty, while there is a warmth to where those of more ordinary aspirations live. The only slightly jarring note is the staggeringly low aspirations of the various characters regarding their cars – no Aston Martins or Porsches here – but instead BMW 320s and Audi A4s being seen as the height of desirability, which, if true, might gives rise to some worries among the manufacturers of such exotica. Cars aside, this emptiness in the lives of many hints at the central point, made by several characters, that few want to live in the financial sector forever, instead spending some time there, making some money, then doing something else. Indeed, the characters more wedded to the financial life are by far the more contorted personalities. This warts and all portrayal goes a long way towards taking any remaining gloss from the Square Mile.

I note Paul Kilduff, following his dalliance with budget airlines, is returning to the broad genre of crime or mystery fiction, which based on the quality of "The Headhunter", is enormously good news. I very much look forward to reading more.

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