"Rainmaker" by Anthony Bianco; Macmillan; 486pp; £17.50.
Review by Robert Dawson.
In one sense, Rainmaker is a good ol' fashioned morality play about a man who gains the world and loses himself. But there is more to it than that. It is a study of truth and fabrication, of mindless optimism and escapism, of the charms of "rainmakers" who conjured billions from thin air.
Throughout the 1980s M and A departments seduced vast corporations only to pick over them like vultures: dismembering, amalgamating and dismembering again. A small group of individuals, of which Beck was a key member, in effect collaborated as competitors. They invariably deployed tactics that resembled the pre-match posturing of professional wrestlers. Yet once a takeover battle was under way "it was in the overriding interest of both the defensive and offensive advisers to complete a transaction ... The Deal Club liked nothing better than a spirited contest among rival bidders, and the more the merrier as long as, in the end, one of the combatants carried off the prize."
Beck's relationship with truth and ethics is full of fascinating contradictions. Like many on the Street, he was addicted to the hustle of deal making. On top of this we have a modern day Walter Mitty claiming furtive CIA connections, and a mysterious but non-existent fortune, until exposed by the Wall Street Journal in a humiliating front page splash that finished his career.
Yet the same man, when approached by Boesky for inside information, hung up the phone and expended considerable energy trying to persuade journalists to investigate the arbitrageur. This was long before Boesky fell from grace, and when he would have made a dangerous enemy. Neither was Beck prepared to pay lip service to the sham morality of merger mania.
But as a teller of tall tales, Beck is a biographer's nightmare. Through his friendship with the actor Michael Douglas he became involved in a project to make a film about his experiences. The pair even went as far as to commission a screenwriter. One has to admire the nerve of a man who could spend a boozy evening telling bogus war stories to film director Oliver Stone - a genuine veteran - who amazingly failed to smell a rat.
Finally Bianco confronts Beck with his father's past, the one skeleton left in the cupboard by the end of the decade. Not even the WSJ had unearthed this one. Beck, already shot to pieces by the failure of his third marriage and his ignoble departure from Drexel, breaks down and confesses all. We are left with the sight of Beck attempting to rebuild his life - and having the last work in an epilogue. This is written in the form of a stream of consciousness, as if under orders from his psychoanalyst. It seems to have done the trick, for Beck finds the experience thoroughly therapeutic. Like Bianco, I can't help but wish him well.
Robert Dawson is a freelance writer.