Friday, May 15, 2020

Money Matters

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I saw a really weird thing on our dining room table the other day, and I thought: what’s that? And it was my purse. I simply hadn’t needed it for the past 60 (but who’s counting) days. And inside was my wallet. I thought—for the first time in forever--I have no idea how much money is in that wallet.
It was incredibly weird.
But when it comes to finances—big time finances—there’s no one more on the inside (in a good way, not like that Senator) (allegedly) than Larry Light.
His new financial thriller--written “before”—is titled CRASH.
Oh, yeah.
And today he gives us his two cents. And a whole lot more.


Money Matters: The Rebirth of the Financial Thriller
America’s unbalanced financial situation has been apparent for some time now. It started with the 2008-09 financial crisis, which showed how Wall Street sharpies could earn dubious millions and not suffer any consequences, while ordinary people lost their homes. Then came a long period of achingly slow economic recovery, as wages stagnated for most, but the 1% expanded their fortunes mightily. And now, amid a horrible pandemic, we’ve reached unemployment of Great Depression-like proportions.
The point is that, regardless of income level or political affiliation, economic matters have become more and more important in everyday life. And that, seems to me, has prompted a resurgence of financial thrillers.
Sure, I have a dog in this fight. My new thriller, Crash, which just came out, revolves around a plot by Wall Street honchos to wreck the world’s economy and emerge from the ruins as the last solvent ones standing—thus allowing them to rake in money that used to belong to others.
The only ones who can stop them are a computer whiz at an investment bank and her boyfriend. I wrote it with David Hagberg, a New York Times best-selling author, who alas died in the fall, after we’d completed the book.
We figured that we could warn readers of problems they might not know about, but which affect them--because their wealth, even if modest, is linked to the stock and bond markets. And that invested money determines whether they can buy a house, pay for their kids’ education and retire in security. And what stands in the way of their dreams? People whom Theodore Roosevelt called “malefactors of great wealth.”
David and I set out to tell this tale in an entertaining fashion aimed at showing folks how Wall Street works in an easily understood and fun way. Our skills complemented one another. I’m a financial journalist, having worked at the Wall Street Journal and other such places, and David was the master of the broad-ranging, high-stakes plot.
During times of economic unease, financial thrillers have an appeal. The last time this happened was in the financially fraught 1970s, when Paul Erdman made a grand entrance onto the book scene with popular reads like The Silver Bears and the Crash of ’79.  More on Paul later.
Nowadays, the increased public appetite for tales of finance is seen in the popularity of TV shows like Showtime’s Billions and HBO’s Succession. But a steady stream of books about money matters has developed.
One of the best practitioners of this is Joseph Finder, a best-selling writer who loves to immerse himself in the milieus he’s describing. His latest, House on Fire, pits his hero, Nick Heller, who runs a private intelligence firm, against a big pharmaceutical company and the family controlling it. Seems they’ve cashed in big-time on opiates. Finder digs into this world of enormous riches and corporate power to get to the truth.
When it comes to the sociology of the business elite, Finder has a deft touch that pleasingly includes satire. In Killer Instinct, a thwarted electronics salesman gets dressed down by his braying jackass of a boss, who loves to blare platitudes like: “There’s no I in team.” To which the salesman retorts, at least to himself: “Well, there’s an I in idiot.”
Former Wall Streeter Michael Sears brings his strong financial background and stylish prose to his Jason Stafford series, about a stock trader who served time in jail and returns as an investigator of financial crimes, and one who knows both the light and dark side of the business. His love for his autistic son makes Stafford an exceptionally compelling hero.
In his first job after getting his MBA, Christopher Reich worked for a Swiss bank. Using that experience, he produced Numbered Account, a novel of dirty doings in Switzerland’s secretive banking industry, which became a best seller. Lately, he has launched a series starring Simon Riske, an industrial spy with a taste for the high life a la James Bond. In Reich’s newest book, Crown Jewel, he’s hired by a casino magnate to get to the bottom of a cheating ring that is costing this billionaire a fortune at his deluxe Monte Carlo gambling emporium.
Investment banker H.T. Narea has a tale of international intrigue in The Fund, where a Middle Eastern hedge fund honcho tries to bring down the West’s economy. Narea brought to bear his career in debt restructuring, private equity and syndicated finance to this well-informed plot. (Disclosure: He blurbed Crash). He got his start in fiction researching and editing books by his father-in-law, Paul Erdman, the godfather of financial fiction.
Erdman, who died in 2007, was an economist with a colorful past. An American, he founded a Swiss bank that went under, which earned him a 10-month stint in solitary without being charged of a crime. He was let out on a $133,000 bond and promptly skipped bail to return to the U.S. He used his time in prison to write the beginning of The Billion Dollar Sure Thing, about a machination to control the world’s monetary assets. His book went on to win the Edgar Award from Mystery Writers of America in 1974 for best first novel.
The 1970s were a time of great economic turmoil, like today. The Arab oil embargo hit Americans where they lived—in their cars. Long gas lines formed, and people in the U.S., an invincible nation after World War II, got a taste of vulnerability. They didn’t like it. 
Then came stagflation, an unwelcome mix of stagnant economic growth and high inflation. Meanwhile, crime was rising and cities seemed unlivable. Things seemed out of control.
And at the core, the root cause was financial. No wonder Erdman found a ready audience for his chronicles of underhanded doings in the world of high finance, with regular people ending up with the dirty end.
Other similar shenanigans are going on these days in real life. We’ll find out about them soon enough and gnash our teeth. And someone will have scarfed up big bucks in the meantime. As Erdman wrote in his first novel, describing the scheme to crash the U.S. dollar and get rich off of the resulting mess: “Imagine what a Papa Kennedy, a Bernard Baruch, or even a Karl Marx would have done with a situation like this.”

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Yeah, it’s….so depressing. But I do remember being fascinated by Michael Lewis’ THE BIG SHORT, and the amazing movie that was made from it.  (You DID see that, right?)
SO what do you think, reds are readers? Do we want books that reflect the times, or distract us? I do think financial thrillers are incredibly valuable—they have the glory of teaching us something while telling us a story.  And in good hands, like Larry’s, they can reveal the inner workings of the financial machine that literally runs our lives.
When the grocery delivery person came yesterday, I asked whether he wanted his extra tip-on-top-of-the-standard in cash? Or added to the app?
He did not hesitate. “Cash,” he said.
And yeah, let's chat. If we dare ask Larry: what do YOU think will happen?



Lawrence Light is currently the markets editor of CIO magazine. He has been a writer/editor for most of the major financial news sources of our time: Business Week, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, and has written for Fortune, Money, Investopedia, CBS Money-watch, and many more. He has written the Karen Glick books, Too Rich to Live, and Fear and Greed. His short stories appear frequently, including one in Wall Street Noir, a collection from Akashic. His latest thriller is CRASH, with David Hagberg which came out in April 2020 and features a threatened economic apocalypse.



THE SECOND GREAT DEPRESSION IS COMING. THE WORLD’S ECONOMIES ARE GROANING UNDER TOO MUCH DEBT. IF ONE THING GOES WRONG, THE ENTIRE RICKETY SYSTEM COLLAPSES. NOW, ACCLAIMED AWARD-WINNING NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING NOVELIST DAVID HAGBERG AND RENOWNED FINANCIAL REPORTER LAWRENCE LIGHT HAVE COMBINED FORCES TO DRAMATIZE―HOUR BY HOUR―HOW THIS ALL-TOO-REAL CATASTROPHE COULD GO DOWN IN CRASH.

With debt-burdened governments and businesses worldwide about to go bust, a cabal of Wall Street big shots plot to destroy the globe’s stock exchanges. To provide that one thing that goes wrong. In 24 hours, a powerful computer worm will smash the exchanges and spark an international panic, pushing a debt-laden world into the abyss. The Wall Street gang’s investment bank will be the last one standing, able to make a killing amid the ruins.
But one person, who works for their bank as a computer expert, spots the worm embedded deep in its network. Cassy Levin invents a program to destroy the cyber-intruder. Angered by Cassy’s discovery, her bosses order her kidnapping.
Her boyfriend, a former Navy SEAL, is alarmed at Cassy’s disappearance and unravels the plot. Ben Whalen only has until the next morning to save the woman he loves and prevent the economic apocalypse.
This story is based on the genuine threat posed by towering debt, which will make the 2008 financial crisis look puny.

53 comments:

  1. Congratulations, Larry, on your new book. Although I haven’t yet read all the books you’ve mentioned, I did read [and enjoyed] Joseph Finder’s “House on Fire.” The whole financial situation these days is quite sobering; nevertheless, I’m looking forward to reading “Crash.”

    I enjoy books that reflect the times, Hank, almost as much as I enjoy the distracting ones. And learning something important while I’m enjoying a story is truly invaluable . . . .

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    1. Oh, I agree! I love it when a really good author brings a complicated timely situation to life!

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    2. Thanks, Joan. Topical plots -- and David and I had no idea in 2019 during the writing of how topical we would end up being -- are tricky. I'm betting that readers will want to know what is going on behind the curtains, just as Paul Erdman did.

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    3. This was Larry replying, BTW, Joan. Trying to get that signature embedded into the system.

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    1. Thanks, Mark. They always say that writing a book is a labor of love. That's true.

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    2. This was Larry, replying, BTW, Mark. Thanks.

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    3. And it'a always great to get that book in your hands, as an author.

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  3. Congratulations on the new book, Larry! Crash sounds like an intriguing combination of a long-term global catastrophe and a time-ticking thriller.

    Looking at your list of financial thriller authors, I have enjoyed reading Michael Sears but have not tried any of the others.

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    1. Yes, It is a great list! And I love the Michael Sears book, too! He is working on a new one, I know, and I am it is wonderful! Although not a series book. We’ll invite him to the blog when it is published!

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    2. I love all the writers mentioned, of course, Grace. Joe Finder has had an interesting trajectory. He started out using an average person as his protagonist, a la Hitchcock. Someone you could relate to. Now he has moved to a pro named Nick Heller, who has the saving virtue of having a complex family and relationship life that gives him an interesting vulnerability. So this mighty individual is also someone you can relate to.

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  4. Hank, I loved "The Big Short." I was thinking of it as I read this post.

    I enjoy books like financial thrillers at any time because it could happen at any time. There are always people out there looking to take advantage and make a buck. But it'll be a while before I'm comfortable reading books that center on, or take place against, a pandemic.

    Congratulations, Larry!

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    1. Yes, have you seen that big pandemic book that just came out? Called… something about October, I forget. I am very wary of reading that, I must admit. Although it has gotten amazing reviews.

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    2. I know Kristopher Z. reviewed one, but I don't remember the name. I don't think it had October in the title. Black and white cover, set in England. But yeah, not on my reading list right now. Maybe later.

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    3. You're right, Liz. I remember seeing the movie "Contagion," a few years ago. Like a lot of us, my wife Meredith and I are watching a lot of TV (and reading books).But no way on earth do I want to watch "Contagion." Fortunately, "Crash" goes nowhere near pathogens. The threat is totally financial. Which admittedly we are getting a taste of now.

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  5. Congratulations on your new release! I'm always up for a financial thriller but anything to do with viruses? I may never read another deadly bacteria/virus book.

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    1. Yes, I kind of tentatively agree about that…

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    2. Absolutely, Margaret. Totally agree. Meredith and I live in a high-rise in Manhattan, which happens to have nice views. We go out only when we have to. I liken life here to being on the International Space Station: Great views from on high, communications to earth are digital only, going outside is dangerous, and you need protective garb.

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  6. I, too, was thinking of "The Big Short" as I read this post!

    Larry, congratulations on the new book. It sounds like a great blend of financial and thriller. (There's nothing like a former Navy Seal to bring the thrill!) I look forward to reading it.

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    1. That’s the key, isn’t it? Not to weigh the book down with financial insider stuff, and yet… Have financial insider stuff.

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    2. Thanks, Susan. Both the Michael Lewis book and the movie, "The Big Short," were wonderful and entertaining venues to explain financial stuff. And I contend that people in general should know about financial basics. Our Navy SEAL, in addition to being a street-smart and very tough guy, is a stand-in for the average person, who is no finance whiz. Cassy, his brainy, finance-savvy, computer-genius girlfriend, explains things to Ben.

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  7. Welcome Larry, this sounds so fascinating. Though I imagine it must feel bittersweet with your co-writer gone...

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    1. Yes, the whole thing must be a real roller coaster…

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    3. Yes, Robert. It was a shock when David died. We shared an agent, who put us together. He was an amazing man, full of life. January 2019, when we'd signed to do the book, David visited from Florida, and I took him on a Wall Street tour: to meet a real-life investment banker and then a floor trader (he thought they'd be stuffy -- far from it), to see T. Rowe Price's cyber-security center (which figures prominently in the novel: Cassy works in one) and to the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, which is always like a circus. He was bedazzled by the NYSE floor. We got to be good friends, chatting on the phone, emailing. After the book was done, he wanted us to come visit him in Florida. Alas, it was not to be.

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    4. Sorry, Roberta. I typo'd your first name.

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  8. Congratulations Larry! I’m curious to hear more about your collaboration... how did you do it??

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    1. Oh, great question! (And did you have fun on first chapter fun yesterday?)

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    2. It amazing hank! You did a fabulous job

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    3. That is indeed a good question, Hallie. You remember from our MWA University days, we'd talk about plotters and pantsers--the first meticulously charts the narrative, the second goes by the seat of his or her pants. David and I were an amalgamation of both. We knew the basic arc of the plot: who did what, when and why, and how things would end up. Then we charted about five chapters ahead. I'd work on the Wall Street stuff, David handled the bang-bang thriller stuff (though there is a considerable overlap). Since he was a full-time author and I am a full-time financial journalist, he melded the two together and passed it to me for any changes I wanted. In time, the process became streamlined. We rarely disagreed.

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  9. Larry, welcome to Jungle Red Writers and congratulations on your new book. It sounds terrifying!

    The plot of CRASH seems even more frightening because we all feel so vulnerable right now and conspiracy theories abound. We have witnessed such acts of greed on the part of so many industries recently, accompanied by the insolence and mismanagement of our federal government, plus the minor schemes of companies that aren't at all small to abscond with the monies set aside to aid small businesses...on and on. It's easy to believe the worst can happen.

    Before this, who would have really believed that we'd be confined to our homes for such a long time watching the numbers of victims climb on the nightly news? So, a conspiracy to crash the world economies seems all too possible. Ah-h-h! I think I'll get my money out of the market and put it under my mattress before I read your book.

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    1. Money under the mattress! Very tempting, I must say. Larry, what do you think about that?

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    2. Hank, you asked me above if I thought my desperate scenario would play out. Namely, a second Great Depression. I won't give away how "Crash" ends, but let's just say it is not a bleak ending. Two people in love, one a ferocious warrior, the other a wizard hacker, are a formidable pair. Our malefactors of great wealth underestimate them. To address Judy's observations, we sure are seeing a lot of heinous crap going on. When large corporations can cart off millions of taxpayer dollars, but Fabio, the owner of my favorite restaurant who is not allowed to be open, gets zip -- that's wrong. I think we are in for a very bad recession. The optimist in me prays that it won't slide into a depression. As to the mattress approach to bad economic times, I'm staying 60-30-10 invested. That means 60% in stocks, 30% in bonds, 10% in cash. The latter two are ballast: they won't lose value, or at least in the case of bonds, not much. Stocks are scary, as they can really take a dive. But over time, people who stayed with stocks were rewarded. Even in the 1930s. A lot of people bailed out of stocks in late 2008 amid the financial crisis. So they weren't in the market in March 2009, a few months later, when the greatest bull run in history took off.

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    3. The above comment from from Larry. Sorry, my method faltered for a moment.

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  10. I'm with you, Judy! The fact that your scenario, Larry, is all too believable is what scares the pants off me. I'll need a flashlight under the covers to read this thriller!

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    1. It is scary, Flora. Thus far, even today after a lousy jobs report and retail sales report, the market is retracing the losses it took in February and March. Will there be another market plunge? I'm strongly suspect so. With "Crash," David and I wanted to explain how such a thing could happen-- and how to stop it. We did not have a pandemic as a cause, of course. The threat is entirely from humans.

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  11. Larry, how horrible, to lose your writing partner. I'm so sorry.

    Having worked in the financial services industry for nearly ten years, first as a sales assistant at Merrill Lynch, and then as full-service insurance agent (including selling variable life and annuity products), I've always been interested in all the permutations of finance and investments. It's no surprise there are financial thrillers, since the stakes are high, and there is endless potential for wrongdoing. It's a perfect place to percolate a plot!

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    1. Perfect explanation! And wow, I bet you have your own treasure chest of financial shenanigan information!

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    2. Karen, I also worked in insurance for a while and remember vividly my "education" about float. From that moment on I became very suspicious of financial institutions, and that was just "float."

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    3. Judy, my eye-opener was learning about "puts and calls" in investment strategy. Buying and selling something the investor does not even own is odd to me, even today.

      And I sold health insurance, as well as other types. The scam behind that industry is worse now than it was then.

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    4. Yes, puts and calls. Betting that someone will succeed or fail. Geez.

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    5. For sure, a lot of people are sold things they don't understand, things that cost too much and aren't suited for them. An expensive annuity for an 80-year-old grandmother? Please. That's why I advise folks to go to a fee-only financial planner. This means they don't take commissions. For a flat fee, they do a plan for you. They don't sell you the pieces of that plan: the mutual funds, the stocks, etc. You can buy their recommendations easily and cheaply through an online discount broker like Charles Schwab. Look for a planner who has a CFP, which means certified financial planner. They must adhere to the fiduciary standard, which means they must act in your interests, not their own.

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  12. Larry, I am so sorry that your writing partner David Hagberg passed away. And Congratulations on your new novel! Is it a fictional novel or non fiction?

    The story sounds like something straight out of a James Bond film where the villain is masterminding economic collapse!

    You mentioned several authors, including Joseph Finder. Funny story. I got an email from Joseph Finder and I had not heard of his novels yet. I thought he was in my writing workshop classes at a local bookstore and I asked him about one of the classes there. It turned out that he was not in the writing workshop with me. I asked him how he got my email address and he said that he got the email address from a list from the local bookshop email list. LOL. He was nice about it and apologized. After that, I always notice his name when it's mentioned on social media and in print.

    Apologies in advance if these questions veer into the realm of politics. I try to avoid politics.

    Regarding CRASH, I can think of many different things. One BIG question: Are the rest of us paying a HIGH cost for a few greedy people who care about money and nothing else? I wonder if it is because we stopped investing in public education? Is it because a few people are hellbent on destroying the environment (for example - fracking) under the guise of "providing jobs"? Is it because a few powerful people are in denial of climate change? Is it because until recently with Affordable Health Care, which could be improved, many people did NOT have health insurance? Is it because people have to choose between working ($$$ for child care) or staying hime? Is it because many people do not have maternity / paternity leave when they have babies? Is it because the American public schools are dependent on local property taxes? Is it because public school teachers are not paid enough to live on? Is it because many people have to work two or three or four jobs just to pay rent / mortgage and living expenses?

    What do I think could happen? It can go either way. More people will help each other OR we will become more divided?

    HOW can we prepare for real life scenario of the CRASH?

    Diana

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    1. Whoa, Diana, your fears = my fears. Yes, every time I hear about some company cutting overtime or cutting number of employees or even "cost cutting measures" you know someone else is making money on it.

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    2. Yes, SO agree. And we are all affected by it.

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    3. Excellent question. The way to prepare is, first, to know what's going on in the world of economics and finance. I sketched out above my personal preferred asset allocation: 60-30-10, for stocks, bonds and cash, in that order. Some people panic and sell their stocks when the market takes a dive. Worst idea ever. Stocks may lose half theri value (as in the 2008 crash), but they don't go to zero. If you have a well-diversified portfolio, you can ride out the bad times -- and come out ahead. Your stocks, eventually, will rebound. Even Bernie Sanders has stock market investments, via mutual funds.

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    4. Oh, this is so reassuring to hear..crossing fingers. oxo

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    5. Larry, thanks! My grandmother was a financial wizard and she understood stocks and how they worked! She passed away when I was too young to remember her.

      Diana

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  13. Boy, talk about a timely book, as we red headlines that could have come straight out of 1930 (if they also had the Spanish influenza going on at the same time...) I love financial thrillers, so this looks like a definite must-read for me.

    I'll give readers another name in the genre: Mike Cooper, whose non-writing career has been in finance. His 2012 thriller CLAWBACK was amazing, and he's written two more finance-world thrillers and a bunch of short stories since then. Definitely recommend.

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  14. I'll have to read him, Julia. Thanks.

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