The Moneychangers gives good value

If you’ve read Hotel, Airport, or Wheels, you’ll be familiar with Arthur Hailey’s technique of merging a fictional story with exposition of how large organization works.

The O in the word Moneychangers holds a man in in front of a bank vault.
The Moneychangers is about who gets access to a bank vaults.

The Moneychangers applies that formula to the operation of a big bank but, since banks have changed less since the mid-20th century than airports or the auto industry, Moneychangers has more contemporary feel.

The story opens opens with Alex Vandervoort and Roscoe Heyward competing for the presidency of First Mercantile American Bank.

The two men have very different assessments of what banks should do. For Roscoe, it’s all about shareholder profits; for Alex it’s about making reasonable profit while serving communities.

Split evenly between the candidates, the bank board puts one of its members in the presidency, leaving Alex and Roscoe as vice presidents.

Hailey does his usual thorough job explaining banking operations while telling a story. And he keeps the subplots exciting and relevant.

The leading characters are each well-developed, individually interesting. They argue about the future of banking, including about how long it will be before the American economy collapses under its weight of debt, and about ethics.

And they make the arguments matter.

Thus, The Moneychangers manages to be both easy reading and valuable reading.

The Moneychangers by Arthur Hailey
Doubleday [1975] 436 p.
1975 bestseller #2. My grade: A-

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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The Dogs of War has a sharp bite

White type for title and author on red background suggest innocence.
Crossed guns on the badge are mercenaries’ insignia.

In The Dogs of War, as in his earlier bestsellers The Odessa File and The Day of the Jackal, Frederick Forsyth explores a subject ripped from the foreign wire services.

Dogs takes readers into the shadowy world in which high finance allies itself with political power, both using physical force to work their will.

A prospector notices unusual vegetation patterns on a mountain in West Africa, which indicate the presence of tin. When the report gets back to London, a scientist discovers the rock samples reveal a high presence of platinum.

To get the platinum, an unscrupulous British financier instigates a plan to overthrow an African country.  He hires Cat Shannon, a mercenary with experience in Africa, to handle the coup which must occur on Zagaro independence day, just 100 days away.

Shannon is a meticulous planner, carefully selecting his associates, taking advantage of differing national laws on currency transactions, buying goods to furnish a small army, covering his tracks, and always keeping a close eye on the calendar.

Forsyth’s typewriter knocks out flawed characters with redeeming qualities and model citizens who are total scumbags — and makes them both feel totally real.

Dogs has a surprise ending — and Forsyth makes even that feel inevitable.

The Dogs of War by Frederick Forsyth
Viking Press, © 1974, 408 p.
1974 bestseller #6. My grade: A

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Billion Dollar Sure Thing: Sure good reading

Spine of The Billion Dollar Sure Thing
  All caps title indicates just how sure The Billion Dollar Sure Thing is.

The Billion Dollar Sure Thing is a suspense novel about international monetary policy.

Novelist Paul E. Erdman knocks off in chatty style a complex story of wheeling and dealing by “three arms-length cronies” who control the currency exchanges in three European central banks.

One of the three, Switzerland’s Dr. Walter Hofer, happens to see the American Treasury Secretary Crosby and Bank for International Settlements Secretary-General Bollinger dining together when there was no public reason for both men being in London.

Hofer observes they discuss a red-bound document the American brought, but which the BIS secretary-general carried when they left the Savoy.

Hofer shares with his alternate numbers in New York and London what he observed and what he thinks it might presage.

Hofer’s instincts are right.

The U.S. government is secretly preparing to announce a return to the gold standard and simultaneously revalue gold from $38 to $125 an ounce.

Days later, a red-bound document is stolen from Bollinger’s home safe.

Erdman’s novel is an engrossing yarn; he has a knack for simplifying complicated ideas and a flair for apt character tags.

Sure Thing is also an education in history and economics. Nixon took America off the gold standard in 1971 and we’re living with the consequences today.

The Billion Dollar Sure Thing
By Paul E. Erdman
Scribner’s, © 1973, 248 p.
1973 bestseller #9 My grade: A

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Word: More than its title is deceiving

Stark black and red type on dull white background lead the ey toward the symbol of a skewered fish.
The skewered fish is a clue.

Irving Wallace’s The Word is not a religious novel any more than Elmer Gantry is.

It’s a suspense-packed novel about Steve Randall, a public relations man who has had a buy-out offer that would give him enough money to be able to go write a novel.

There’s a hitch: He first has to organize a PR campaign for a new translation of the New Testament incorporating a recently-found gospel by James, the younger brother of Jesus, that contradicts existing accounts.

A international syndicate of religious publishers and theologians are risking their fortunes on the success of the new translation.

Steve, who has no faith, is intrigued.

Doing background research for the book launch, Steve comes upon various bits of information that don’t add up. Digging deeper, he finds a tangle of deceits with deadly consequences.

Since The Word is an Wallace novel, the leading man must have minimum of three sex partners in 500 pages and wind up doing something of redeeming social value.

Despite those preset parameters, Wallace holds readers’ attention. There’s plenty of technical detail to make the story seem mysterious, and plenty of weird characters to make it feel threatening.

The Word is a definite page turner.

The Word: A novel by Irving Wallace
Simon and Schuster, ©1972. 576 p.
1972 bestseller #5. My grade: B

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Odessa File: Suspense with a philosophical side

The night of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, German free-lance journalist Peter Miller followed an ambulance hoping to find a story at its destination.

All-text dust jacket of The Odessa File emphasizes the SS in Odessa.
The SS stands out in The Odessa File.

What he found was Solomon Tauber, 56, dead from suicide.

Beside the body was a diary of Tauber’s experiences in the SS extermination camp run by SS Captain Eduard Roschmann, the “Butcher of Riga.”

After reading the diary, Peter fells compelled to find out what happened to Roschmann. He learns Tauber had seen Roschmann alive just a month before right in Hamburg.

Peter starts hunting for Roschmann.

Soon his snooping is noticed by Odessa, the secret organization of ex-SS officers living under new identifies, and by spies for Israel’s Intelligence Service who don’t want amateurs messing up their efforts to stop the development in Germany of a guidance system for Egyptian missiles.

Frederick Forsyth’s spins a suspenseful tale drawing on his career as an investigative reporter in Europe. He weaves actual names and events into his fiction so seamlessly that story feels both real and important.

Forsyth’s invented characters feel real, too. He gets the details right.

Best of all, Forsyth quietly raises questions about human motivation and whether citizens should be held guilty for actions of their government.

The Odessa File: a novel by Frederick Forsyth
Viking Press, ©1972, 337 p.
1972 bestseller #3 & 1973 bestseller #4
My grade: A

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Other: Plausible horrors

In The Other, Thomas Tryon does something few horror stories do: He makes the horrific plausible enough to happen.

Boy's head set within the O of The Other on an otherwise empty front cover suggests secrets.
Peek through the key hole into The Other.

The story is set in the 1930s in a small Connecticut town where everybody knows everybody else’s business.

The narrative is buttressed by monologues by an unnamed person who recalls various bits of history from Pequot Landing, Conn. The person is confined in an upper floor room in some unnamed institution.

The Perry twins, Niles and Holland, are close, not just because of their twinship, but because their father died in an accident the previous fall, their mother is emotionally fragile and drinks, and their household is run by the boy’s maternal grandmother, Ada.

The boys are temperamental opposites: Holland is easily angered and sadistic; Niles is gentle and loving, with an uncanny ability to think himself into the role of animals.

Tryon lays the story out as a mystery, with plenty of clues for the alert reader.

The novel gets its impact from the fact that the novel’s characters have the same clues available and fail to recognize their significance, just as the California neighbors of David and Louise Turpin failed to put their clues together.

The Other by Thomas Tryon
Knopf, 1971, 280 p.
1971 bestseller #9  My grade: B+

©2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Message from Málaga: Suspense for the cerebral

After a week of business related to his U.S. Space Agency job, Ian Ferrier stops in Málaga, Spain, to visit Jeff Reid. Ian and Jeff worked together eight years before, gathering evidence of Khrushchev’s rocket installations in Cuba.

Flamenco music, US flag and communist hammer-and-sickle are incorporated into art on dust jacket of Message from Malaga
Music, flamenco dancing, and politics mingle.

Now Jeff works for an American wine importer, and Ian’s current work entails scanning the skies for another Cuba-type crisis, this time satellite-based.

Jeff remembers Ian’s love of flamenco and takes him to see the local flamenco star, Tavita, dance.

Before the evening is over, Jeff meets a man claiming to be a defector from the assassination division of Cuba’s Foreign Intelligence Service. As he goes to alert his superiors to the defector’s demands, Jeff is the victim of a cyanide attack.

Barely alive when Ian finds him, Jeff confides in Ian, who becomes a de facto CIA agent when Jeff is assassinated.

Message shows why Helen MacInnes became known for “highly literate” spy novels. Readers must be as alert as the intelligence operatives.MacInnes’s story is tense but restrained. Readers seeking explosions and high-speed chases should look elsewhere.

So too should readers who want James Bond-ish sex romps. Ian appreciates beautiful women but he’s not going to risk his life to bed one.

Message from Málaga by Helen MacInnes
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich [1971] 367 p.
1971 bestseller #6. My grade: B+