Wednesday, 12 October 2011

"The Crash of '79", Paul Erdman

Sometimes it's all too easy to start a theme going, and financially based thrillers seem as good a one for the moment as any.

I distinctly remember Paul Erdman's "The Crash of '79", and what I always regarded as its successor, "The Panic of '89" being present in vast quantities in the thriller/action section of my local second hand bookstore in Dublin as I grew up during the 1980s. To my teenage eyes they never really appealed, tastes running to more the whiz-bang end of the spectrum then, but as time passes so do tastes change, and when one of my explorations into one of Vermont's many second hand literary Alladin's Caves in Brattleboro last December (Brattleboro Books on Elliot St - which I sincerely hope survived the ravages of Hurrican Irene) yielded up "Crash of '79" for a princely dollar fifty, it seemed churlish not to give it a go.

It seems on the surface ridiculous to mention what initially seems like a true piece of 1970s schlock in the same breath as Harris' "Fear Index", but in actual fact Erdman, a rare beast in being a banker who actually served time in prison for being bad at his job, provides a more relevant tome for today. We have creaking European economies, banks grown fat on deeply flawed asset backed securities, high oil prices with a depressed tanker market, and a cash rich 'new economy' with the potential to re-energise the financial system and shake it out of a prolonged recession. Despite being nearly 40 years old, you can't help thinking the work strikes a chord.

Despite this, it is very dated. The 1970s haven't quite yet had the Mad Men reinvention in popular culture, and as such there's a lot about "The Crash of '79" that makes you wince. The 'hero', Bill Hitchcock, is either an thoroughly unpleasant piece of work, or maybe the 1970s really were like that. Either way, passages such as "in the cab on the long way into town, I decided on my order of priorities: first a drink, then a piece of ass" (p.36 of the 1976 Simon and Schuster edition) jar a little in the present day - and there's a lot of this to get through.

All this said it's strangely readable in a guilty pleasure way, and not just for the economic lessons or the snapshot of 1970s culture, there's a pleasing insight into how most people misread how the 1970s would segue into the 1980s. There's no hint that the Shah, portrayed as an uber alpha male, would flee, dying, into exile in the very year that Erdman saw him making his grab for the Saudi oil fields that would topple the world economy, no suggestion that the 1980s would presage a prolonged era of low oil prices, which would drive a long boom and ultimately play its part in ending the Cold War.

In many levels my teenage self was right to leave "The Crash of '79" on the shelf, it's not great literature, but there's still a suspicion that I might hang on to this, or at the very least use it to torment friends in the oil industry.

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating! I think I had read this, but it didn't make enough of an impression for me to recall it. Times don't seem to change much, do they - though the bit about the Shah is quite telling.