While Ben Lieberman’s novels explore many different worlds, his twenty-plus years with some of the world’s top financial firms lend his books an undeniable authenticity. The trading floor provided a ruthless, competitive, and urgent environment that Lieberman was able to transfer into exciting, darkly humorous, and award-winning crime thrillers.
As a former banker, I have to ask this right out of the gate. Was your novel influenced by a real Wall Street practice where traders are betting on people dying?
Yup, this goes in the stranger-than-fiction bucket. There is actually a way on Wall Street to bet against how long a person lives and to profit by guessing correctly. This practice is legal and is going on as we speak.
But The Carnage Account is fiction?
Yes, the real product sparked an idea. I thought that If Wall Street is occasionally victimized by abuse in the system, what would happen if this strange investment were to be controlled by greedy or unscrupulous people. By the way, this investment product is not regulated any stricter than other Wall Street instruments. Its not like abuse hasn’t happened with Bernie Maddoff or subprime mortgages or many other examples. There is a laundry list of a few bad guys doing some bad things and leaving an oversized wake of damage. The reality is that very few areas in the financial industry can brag about being immune to abuse.
I’m a twenty-year Wall Street veteran of places like J. P. Morgan and even Lehman Brothers at the very end. Writing was always an escape from finance, and Wall Street was a topic I wanted to avoid. However, a product that bets against human life presented a compelling story that was hard to resist. What will happen when the inevitable exploitation occurs from the moral hazard of a product wagering on human expiration? The topic kept dragging me in.
I’m stunned. What’s the name of this investment product? Is the name simple, or catchy name like “subprime”?
Great question. The real name is Life Settlements, but Wall Street with its gallows humor has outdone itself with the nickname. Just like high-yield bonds were dubbed “junk bonds, these were nicknamed “death bonds.”
Cathy Perkins’s fourth novel, CYPHER, just released and Rachel Grant, bestselling author of the Evidence series, says it’s “A twisty mystery mixed with a compelling romance. CYPHER kept me up long after I should have gone to sleep!”
In CYPHER, when a hit-man mistakenly kills the wrong person, a Greenville, SC detective confronts hidden agendas and conflicting motives in a powerful local family while trying to control his attraction to the intended victim—a woman who should be dead but instead is hell-bent on saving the remnants of her family. Unwilling to stand by while her family and world are destroyed, she rips apart the secrets surrounding Cypher, the company her father built and will take any measures to defend.
An award-winning author, Cathy Perkins works in the financial industry, where she’s observed the hide-in-plain-sight skills employed by her villains. She writes predominantly financial-based mysteries but enjoys exploring the relationship aspect of her characters’ lives. A member of Sisters in Crime, RWA (Kiss of Death chapter) and International Thriller Writers, she is a contributing editor for THE BIG THRILL, handles the blog and social media for the ITW Debut Authors, and coordinated the prestigious Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense.
When not writing, she can be found doing battle with the beavers over the pond height or setting off on another travel adventure. Born and raised in South Carolina, the setting for CYPHER, HONOR CODE, and THE PROFESSOR, she now lives in Washington with her husband, children, several dogs, and the resident deer herd.
Three of your novels are set where you were born and raised in South Carolina. What is it about the state that makes for intriguing mystery settings?
South Carolina is a state in transition, still coming to terms with its past and struggling to define its future. My South, the South of my novels, is so much more than the stereotype you see too often in stories that are set there. Although there are successful family businesses located throughout the entire United States, with CYPHER I wanted to layer in the family dynamics that are particular to the South—the expectations and obligations of family ties.
When THE BIG THRILL asked me to interview Ted Scofield regarding his debut novel, EAT WHAT YOU KILL, an unvarnished depiction of one man’s brutal climb to reclaim a spot in the upper echelons of Wall Street’s commanding heights, I was excited to have an excuse to pick up a book that touched upon high finance, the law, and the dark side of human nature. To my surprise, I discovered that Ted and I go way back—we just didn’t know it.
A graduate of both Vanderbilt Law and graduate Business School, it turns out Ted was working on his juris doctor at the same time I was, and we undoubtedly passed each other in the halls and around campus almost daily. Needless to say, I was eager to hear about how a former classmate of mine came to write a novel some are calling the AMERICAN PSYCHO of the new millennium. Fortunately, Ted was happy to take time out of his busy schedule as corporate general counsel and securities attorney and answer some questions for us.
Congratulations on your first novel! Tell readers of THE BIG THRILL a little about what inspired you to write EAT WHAT YOU KILL and how your background as a lawyer and MBA influenced the book.
Thank you! Sometime around my eighteenth birthday, I shorted a stock for the first time (that is, I bet that the price would fall). I had about two thousand dollars riding on it, all the money in the world to me, and I wondered what I could do to force the stock to tank. At that moment, the seed for EAT WHAT YOU KILL was planted. Over the ensuing two decades I worked in politics, graduated from law school and business school, toiled as a Wall Street attorney, and the story grew and grew. Finally, I just had to write it down. The novel’s major plot points are pretty much what were in my head when I wrote the first word.
Give us the elevator pitch for THE ASCENDANT.
THE ASCENDANT is about a twenty-six-year-old bond trader—Garrett Reilly—whose specialty is pattern recognition. He makes his money tracking the flow of money on Wall Street. At the beginning of the book he discovers that someone is selling off massive amounts of U.S. Treasuries to attack the American economy. Then he discovers that it’s the Chinese. After an attempt on his life, he realizes that there is an invisible war going on between the U.S. and China. That war is economic, cyber, and psychological. The U.S. military recruits Garrett to help them fight that war, but the thing about Garrett Reilly is that he has a subversive streak a mile wide. You can ask him to do whatever you want, but there’s no guarantee he’ll actually help you, and therein lies the fun of the novel.
So is Garrett Reilly more Anti-hero than hero?
He’s both. I wanted to create a main character who represented a new generation of Americans. People in their twenties who have been raised with these concepts of the American dream—upward mobility, a government you can trust—but who are finding that those things aren’t a given anymore. You can’t necessarily make as much money as your parents, and your government sometimes lies to you. Edward Snowden is a great example of that generation. It fascinates me that half the country thinks he’s a hero, and the other half thinks he’s a traitor. People should feel the same way about Garrett Reilly. At the beginning of the book he’s out solely for himself. By the end, he might actually become a patriot…Or he might not.
Where did you get the concept of invisible war?
A charred Arab: As a client of a Swiss private bank, he invested globally in critical infrastructures. His shocking death causes the blood pressure to rise, not only in oh-so pretty Switzerland but also in the NSA.
Tom Winter, the bank’s head of security, and the attractive Egyptian businesswoman Fatima follow the money through Switzerland, to Egypt, Norway and USA and back into the Swiss Alps. They uncover explosive speculation, and they suddenly go from being hunters to hunted.
Laid-back and taciturn, Tom Winter fights his way through the jungle of intrigue with dry humor. A gripping financial thriller.
An interview with the Swiss first-time author Peter Beck about his astonishingly fast-paced financial thriller featuring a new kind of hero, Tom Winter.
The Swiss are often perceived as being boring. How did you as a born-and-bred Swiss manage to write such a fast-paced thriller?
I write what I like reading myself. I’ve been reading thrillers in English for years – mainly in the bath. Good entertainment just needs speed and a cliffhanger at the end of each chapter. The readers should get bloody fingernails.
By J. N. Duncan
I would like to welcome Michael Pocalyko to this month’s ITW Bulletin, whose debut thriller, THE NAVIGATOR, hits the shelves in June. It’s not often than an author gets to bring so much real world experience to the table when writing big thrills, but Mr. Pocalyko is a retired Naval Commander, former politician, CEO of an investment company, and is able to incorporate all of his background into an intense, action-packed thrill-ride that delves into the human psyche as much as the complexities and intrigue of politics and big business. On that note, let’s get to the good stuff and see what Michael has to say about writing and his new book.
THE NAVIGATOR covers a lot of themes. How much of this was planned before writing and how much was a consequence of just coming out in the story?
When I started writing this novel, I did have only a few major themes in mind. They’re the ones that are most evident in the finished work. How the past intrudes on our lives. The confluence of big data, big business, big technology, big government, big regulation, and big finance. Fathers, sons, and brothers. PTSD. As my writing progressed, some of the other more subtle themes began to take shape. The Cold War, for example, the Mafia subplot, Rick and Julia’s rekindling romance and their relationship as ex-spouses, or the emergence of the mysterious Israeli connection and Arab honor. Those themes definitely emerged only during the writing. I wouldn’t say that they were exactly unplanned, but they truly took on their own life and voice as this book took form. What I wanted to do more than anything was to portray the complexity and interconnectedness of our modern world, and that thrillers can be intelligent, illuminating, literary, and take on major issues.
When several people involved in bidding for an oil refinery are murdered, the situation becomes far more than a billion-dollar business deal.
A self-made woman in the oil industry, Lynn Dayton fights to save lives when escalating attacks reveal a hired assassin’s plan to disrupt oil trade, wreck world economies, and draw another global power into dangerous confrontation with the United States.
Are the killers rogue civil servants challenging the Cherokees’ financial independence, Sansei operatives again wreaking violence, or sinister investors swapping the bidding war for a real one?
Lynn Dayton and Cherokee tribal executive Jesse Drum must learn to trust each other so they can find and stop the killers. Can sobering up really be fatal? How have so many of the deaths been made to appear accidental? Who’s creating weapons with modern poisons and ancient Cherokee arts?
Three men’s lives on a knife’s edge…
Shoog Clay: The nation’s winningest inner-city high school football coach resists pressure to move up to the college level because his kids in the Bronx mean everything to him. But more powerful people won’t take no for an answer.
Antwon Meeps: One day Harriet Tubman High School’s star running back is a shoe-in for a college scholarship. The next day he’s accused of a rape he didn’t commit, his life begins unraveling, and he doesn’t know how to stop it.
The Mean: This incognito Greenwich hedge fund manager is so rich he keeps a giant sea creature as his pet. But a risky investment threatens to ruin him, and a stubborn high school football coach holds the key to his redemption. Soon a tragic hanging in the school gymnasium will lay bare a secret force that none of these men understands.
In a “dark pool” marketplace, insatiable Wall Street players have wagered everything on certain real-world outcomes. When fortunes hang in the balance, financiers cloaked in anonymity won’t hesitate to pay off their claims with the blood of others.
Dixie and I had just finished dropping my stockbroker off the end of a long pier with a concrete halibut in his arms when I bumped into author Michael Sears whose debut thriller, BLACK FRIDAYS, has been creating all kinds of buzz in both the mystery and financial community. Naturally, we sat down, opened a flask and tried not to let the bubbling pleas for help from my former broker disturb our chat.
Hey Michael: What can you tell us about BLACK FRIDAYS?
Jason Stafford, ex-Wall Street trader, is released from prison where he served two years for cooking the books and associated crimes. The only work available to him is to investigate fraud at another firm, where he quickly discovers a conspiracy that leads to murder. But the book is also a story of a man seeking redemption as he takes on the role of single parent to his five year old autistic son — the single biggest challenge of his life.
The decisions he faces help to reveal to him the man he wants to become.
One sultry morning in Charleston, South Carolina, real estate magnate Palmer Kincaid’s body washes ashore, the apparent victim of accidental drowning. Palmer’s daughter calls Grove O’Rourke, stockbroker and hero of Top Producer, for help getting her family’s affairs in order. Palmer was Grove’s mentor and client, the guy who opened doors to a world beyond Charleston. Grove steps in as the interim head of the Palmetto Foundation, an organization Palmer created to encourage philanthropy.
Community foundations, like the Palmetto Foundation, are conduits. Philanthropists gift money to them and propose the ultimate beneficiaries. But in exchange for miscellaneous benefits—anonymity, investment services, and favorable tax treatment—donors lose absolute control. Once funds arrive, community foundations can do whatever they decide.
James Conway is the pseudonym of James P. Othmer, a hedge fund insider and global strategy director at a major advertising firm. He published two satirical novels (THE FUTURIST and HOLY WATER) about the corporate world and a humorous nonfiction book (ADLAND) about the advertising business before turning his hand to a deadly serious financial thriller, THE LAST TRADE.
Conway’s hero, Drew Havens, is a young star at one of the world’s most successful hedge funds who feels guilty about getting rich from other people’s devastating financial losses. When Havens suspects that his boss is orchestrating a crash that could bring down the U.S. economy, he races to stop the scheme – and the string of stock broker murders left in its wake – before time runs out.
The Geneva Connection is about a massively successful private equity CEO, John Kent, who discovers when it is too late that his firm’s biggest investor is a front for a brutal, Mexican drug cartel. Unknowingly, he has been investing and laundering illicit drug money.
The cartel kills one of the firm’s partners to guarantee Kent’s silence. His nightmare worsens when the ambitious head of investigations at the DEA leans on him to provide evidence against his criminal investors.
Kent is trapped between the cartel threatening his life and the DEA who will lock him up if he does not cooperate.
Kusanagi, the priceless sword of the Japanese crown jewels, that must be at the coronation of every Japanese emperor, is missing.
Danny, a navy seal out of his element, is in London to sell a precious artefact – a gold ingot from an ancient sea wreck off the coast of Japan.
Jim Evans, retired whizz kid trader, is young and impossibly rich. Through a chance meeting in a London auction house with Danny he acquires the gold ingot and realises it is just the tip of a huge medieval fortune.