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.”
Can the average reader understand this story or do you need to be a financial whiz?
It’s absolutely for everyone. I was very careful not to get into the weeds of financial issues. The actual concept is pretty simple.
I can buy your life insurance policy and basically become the beneficiary when you die. If you have a million-dollar policy, I can buy the policy and get a million dollars when you die. Of course I wouldn’t pay you the full million dollars today. I might pay you a fraction, like say, five hundred thousand dollars and patiently wait for you to die. If you died in fifty years—then that’s an awful long time to wait to earn that million dollars. It actually would not be a very good investment on my part. But if you died tomorrow…
I see where this is going. The sooner I die, the faster you collect.
Exactly, if I paid you five hundred thousand dollars today and you died in a few months, I would get paid the million dollars almost immediately. Now that’s a very nice and quick profit. That’s pretty good business. Wall Street professionals fancy themselves as killers, so what’s to say one person couldn’t take that concept more seriously than others?
The main character, Rory Cage, creates the perfect accidents. He enjoys making money and he enjoys killing. By discovering this real-life investment opportunity, he gets to combine those two loves. Money helps, but its not even close to what drives this character. Like his bank account, the killings need to get bigger and more creative and more profitable. He needs to feed his ego, but that ego takes a beating when Rory falls in love with Dawn Knight—and the affection is not returned.
So it’s not just action? The romance author in me has to ask. Is there a love story brewing?
There is romance! Early readers have commented on how much they enjoyed the complex relationships that develop between the characters.
Dawn Knight is not only rebuffing the prominent Rory Cage, but also, she is involved in her own “forbidden love” situation. There is a big clash of emotions and Dawn is in the center of the controversy.
Tell me anymore about this forbidden love.
Dawn and Clay Harbor have a steamy past and Clay is back in town. For a variety of reasons, they can’t be together. He’s a Navy Seal turned doctor who is currently saving lives, but deep down he is as skilled and as ruthless a killer as Rory Cage and that makes for a very formidable rival.
So the concept of death bonds came from real life. Are any other parts of the book based on the real world?
Really? Can you tip us off about a few others?
Sure. Not only are US soldiers guarding heroin fields in Afghanistan, but “paid to play” mercenary soldiers also still exist and both of these were incorporated in the story.
Wall Street greed, drugs, complicated relationships, and a ton of action. I’m looking forward to reading The Carnage Account.
Thanks Melinda, I really hope you enjoy.
Ben Lieberman earned his degree in Journalism from the University of Maryland. While his background is scattered with some bizarre odd jobs in his youth, he did manage a more conventional livelihood as an adult. For over twenty years, Lieberman worked in institutional sales and trading for some of the most venerable banks in the world. Ben worked at JPMorgan, Merrill Lynch, Royal Bank of Canada, and even Lehman Brothers at the very end during the financial meltdown of 2008. While his novels explore many different worlds, 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. Lieberman currently resides in Westchester, New York.
To learn more about Ben, please visit his website.
Melinda Leigh is also a fully recovered banker. Her debut novel, SHE CAN RUN, was nominated for Best First Novel by the International Thriller Writers. Her bestselling books have twice been nominated for the Daphne du Maurier Award. Leigh holds a second-degree belt in Kenpo Karate. With such a pleasant life in the suburbs, she has no explanation for the sometimes dark and disturbing nature of her imagination. Find out more about Leigh by visiting her website.