BOOKS - TAKEN FOR A RIDE - Black Cabs, by John McLaren, Simon & Schuster, £9.99. Anthony Hilton enjoys this pacy thriller, a scathing portrayal of corruption in the City.
An American visiting London's financial district in the 1980s famously remarked that the sound of the City was the sound of a thousand backs being scratched. The hierarchy was rigid, and everyone knew their place.
Essentially it was a club, and an exclusively British one, where the pretence was that deals were done over lunch and no one talked about money or business at least until the port.
That's all gone now. The management of City firms was unable to cope with globalisation, and one after another they were taken over or forced into painful decline. Today's City is dominated by American and Continental firms with such massive overheads that they must make at least £10 million a day just to cover the cost of opening their doors. In this cutthroat atmosphere the old loyalties and hierarchies have disappeared. What matters now is whether or not a deal will make money.
This book is a lament for the lost City, and a bitter and at times intemperate attack on the American money culture which has replaced it. Under the thin veneer of a thriller formula it paints a picture of a world where almost all the characters are not just morally flawed, but lacking any integrity whatsoever. These investment bankers have no qualms about using blackmail, burglary, corruption and even murder to further their end.
It is a scathing portrayal of what the City has become, with a rather rose-tinted view of what it was.
There are characters with integrity, high mindedness, who are hard-working, unselfish and loyal, but they are not working in the City - or rather not for the City houses. They are the three cabbies, the drivers of the black cabs of the book's title, who decide to bug their banker customers so they can deal on the inside information they blab about in the back of the cabs. Illegal it may be, but the cabbies' hearts are in the right place. They are doing it to raise money for expensive medical treatment for one of their children.
Author John McLaren was a director of Morgan Grenfell, and it shows in his understanding of how a deal is put together and in his portrayal of the tensions between client and adviser. Where his touch falters is in having insufficient feel for description, or indeed dialogue. But for all that he has written a pacy thriller - a story of intrigue and murder, double dealing and disloyalty in the world of high finance, and the particular struggles of one old British house to adjust to the modern world.