A job he shouldn't have taken... A woman he shouldn't have loved... A secret he shouldn't expose...if he wants to live.
Nick Neumann had it all: a Harvard degree, a beautiful fiancée, a star-making Wall Street career. But behind the dazzling veneer of this golden boy is a man haunted by the brutal killing of his father seventeen years before.
Now chilling new evidence has implicated his father's employer, the United Swiss Bank, in the crime. Nick doesn't know how. Or why. But he has a plan to find out: move to Zurich. Work for the same bank. Follow in his father's footsteps. Look for the same secrets...and uncover something so shocking, so unexpected, justice may not be enough.
For as a circle of treachery tightens around him, as a woman with secrets of her own enters his life, Nick makes another chilling discovery. Not just about his father but about himself. And how far he's willing to go to find out what happened seventeen years before--when a man died and a conspiracy was born.
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||4.23(w) x 6.88(h) x 2.02(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
It was the coldest winter in memory. For the first time since 1962 the Lake of Zurich threatened a solid freeze. Already a shelf of blue ice clung to her shores. Farther out a transparent crust floated upon the surface. The stately paddle wheel steamships that called regularly on Zurich and her prosperous environs had taken refuge at their winter harbor in Kilchberg. At ports around the lake storm lamps burned red: danger, conditions hazardous.
The last snow had fallen only two days before, yet the city's roads were immaculate. Muddy piles of frozen slush that might sully the sidewalks of other urban centers had been removed. Recalcitrant patches of ice likewise. Even the rock salt and gravel spread to hasten their decomposition had been neatly swept up.
In any other year, the continuing bout of record low temperatures and unending snowfall would be reason for spirited discussion. Many a newspaper column would be devoted to a thorough tallying of the economic gains and losses to the country. To her agriculture and livestock--losers, as thousands of cows had frozen to death in low-lying barns; to her many Alpine ski resorts--all winners, and about time, after consecutive seasons of insufficient snowfall; and to her precious water table--also a winner, as experts forecast a restoration of the national aquifer after a decade of depletion. More conservative rags might even include a spiteful article pronouncing the much-feared "greenhouse effect" dead and buried.
But not this year. On this first Monday in January, no mention of the severe weather could be found anywhere on the front pages of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, the Tages Anzeiger, or even the chronically mundane Zürcher Tagblatt. The country was struggling with something far rarer than a harsh winter: a crisis of conscience.
Signs of turmoil were not difficult to find. And Nicholas Neumann, stepping off the number thirteen tram at the Paradeplatz, immediately spotted the most prominent of them. Fifty yards ahead, along the east side of the Bahnhofstrasse, a band of men and women were gathered in front of a drab four-story building that was home to the United Swiss Bank. His destination. Most held signs, which Nick, as he preferred to be called, could read even at this distance: "Clean Up the Swiss Laundry." "Drug Money Is Blood Money." "Hitler's Bankers." Others stood with their hands shoved into their pockets, marching determinedly back and forth.
The past year had witnessed a parade of embarrassing revelations about the country's banks. Complicity in the wartime arms trade with the Third Reich; hoarding of funds belonging to survivors of Hitler's death camps; and the concealment of illicit profits deposited by the South American drug cartels. The local press had branded the banks "soulless instruments of financial chicanery" and "willing conspirators to the drug barons' deadly trade." The public had taken note. And now those accountable must be made to pay.
Worse storms had raged and passed, mused Nick, as he set off toward the bank. He didn't share in the country's self-inculpatory mood. Nor was he sure the nation's banks were solely to blame. But that was as far as his interest went. His concern was focused elsewhere that morning: on a private matter that had haunted the darkest corners of his heart for as long as he could remember.
Nick moved easily through the crowd. He had broad shoulders and stood just over six feet tall. His step was confident and purposeful and, except for a faint limp, commanding. Veterans of the parade ground would note the curled hand laid along the rail of the trousers, the shoulders pushed back a breath more than was comfortable, and immediately recognize him as one of their own.
His face was cast from a serious mold, framed by a crop of straight black hair. His nose was prominent and spoke of a distinct, if unlanded, European heritage. His chin was sturdy rather than stubborn. But it was his eyes that caught people's attention. They were a pale blue and surrounded by a network of fine lines unexpected in someone his age. They offered a furtive challenge. His fiancée said once that they were the eyes of another man, someone older, someone wearier than a twenty-eight-year-old had any right to be. Someone she no longer knew. She'd left him the next day.
Nick quickly covered the short distance to the bank. A freezing drizzle had begun to fall, whipped up by a stiff lake breeze. Flakes of snow darkened his trench coat, but the foul weather did not intrude on his thoughts. Threading his way through the crowd of demonstrators, he kept his eyes fixed on the twin revolving doors that sat before him at the top of a broad flight of granite stairs.
The United Swiss Bank.
Forty years ago his father had begun his employ here. Apprentice at sixteen, portfolio manager at twenty-five, vice president at thirty-three, Alexander Neumann had been on the fast track to the top. Executive vice president. Board of directors. Anything was possible. And everything expected.
Nick checked his wristwatch, then climbed the stairs and entered the lobby of the bank. Somewhere close by, a church bell tolled the hour. Nine o'clock. His stomach fluttered and he recognized the uneasy frisson of a mission at hand. He smiled inwardly, giving silent greeting to the once familiar sensation, then continued across the marble floor toward a lectern marked "Reception" in letters of gold relief.
"I have an appointment with Mr. Cerruti," he said to the hall porter. "I'm to begin work today."
"Your papers?" demanded the porter, an older man resplendent in a navy topcoat with braided silver epaulets.
Nick passed across the counter an envelope bearing the bank's embossed logo.
The porter withdrew the letter of engagement and looked it over. "Identification?" Nick presented two passports: one navy blue with a golden eagle emblazoned on its cover, the other a bold red with a prim white cross painted upon its face. The porter examined both, then returned them. "I'll announce your arrival. Take a seat, please. Over there." He motioned toward a grouping of leather chairs.
But Nick preferred to remain standing and walked slowly through the great hall. He took in the elegantly dressed customers waiting for their favorite tellers and the gray executives hurrying across the shiny floor. He listened to the stubble of hushed conversations and the whisper of computer-assisted commerce. His thoughts drifted to the flight over from New York two nights earlier, and then back further, to Cambridge, to Quantico, to California. He'd been headed this way for years, without even knowing it.
A telephone buzzed behind the porter's lectern. The porter snapped the receiver to his ear and nodded crisply in time to his every grunted response. Moments later, Nick was being shown across the lobby to a bank of antiquated elevators. The porter walked ahead with perfectly measured strides, as if determined to establish the exact distance to the waiting elevator, and once there, made a show of sweeping open its smoked glass door.
"Second floor," he said, in his clipped voice. "Someone will be waiting for you."
Nick thanked him and stepped into the elevator. It was small with maroon carpeting, burled wood paneling, and a polished brass balustrade. Immediately, he caught scent of a medley of familiar fragrances: the blunt trail of stale cigar smoke; the nasal pinch of well-polished shoes, and most distinctly, the bracing note, at once sweet and antiseptic, of Kölnisches Wasser, his father's favorite eau de cologne. The masculine odors assaulted his senses, conjuring up a fractured image of his dad: wine black hair cropped unfashionably short; unblinking blue eyes capped by unruly eyebrows; stern mouth locked in a downcast expression of disapproval.
The porter grew impatient. "You must go to the second floor. "Second floor,"' he said, this time in English. "You're expected. Please, sir."
But Nick did not hear a word. His back remained to the open door, his eyes staring blindly ahead. He struggled to fit the separate images together, to bind them into a finished portrait. He recalled the powerful feelings of awe and pride and fear he'd experienced when in his father's company, but nothing more. His memories remained incomplete and somehow disjointed, wanting for some essential fabric that he did not possess.
"Young man, are you all right?" the porter asked.
Nick spun to face him, banishing the disconcerting images from his mind. "I'm fine," he said. "Just fine."
The porter placed a foot into the elevator. "You're sure you are ready to begin work today?"
Nick raised his chin and fought the porter's inquisitive stare. "Yes," he said gravely, giving an imperceptible nod of his head. "I've been ready for a long time."
Offering an apologetic smile, he let the elevator door close and pressed the button for the second floor.
"Marco Cerruti is ill. Out with some virus or bug, who knows what," explained a tall, sandy-haired executive well on the downslope to forty, who was waiting for Nick on the second-floor landing. "Probably the lousy water in that part of the world--Middle East, that is. The Fertile Crescent: that's our territory. Believe it or not, we bankers did not give it that name."
Nick stepped out of the elevator and offering the required smile, introduced himself.
"'Course, you're Neumann. Who else would I be waiting for?" The sandy-haired man thrust out his hand and gave a vigorous shake. "I'm Peter Sprecher. Don't let the accent fool you. I'm Swiss as William Tell. Did my schooling in England. Still know the words to 'God Save the Queen.'" He pulled at an expensive cuff and winked. "Old man Cerruti is just back from his Christmas run. I call it his yearly Crusade: Cairo, Riyadh, Dubai, and then off to points unknown--probably a sunny port where he can work on his tan while the rest of us back at head office wilt. Guess it didn't work out as planned. Word's come down he'll be out at least a week. The bad news is you're with me." Nick listened to the rambling outpouring of information, doing his best to digest it all. "And the good news?"
But Peter Sprecher had disappeared down a narrow corridor. "Ah, yes, the good news," he called over his shoulder. "Well, the good news is that there is a mountain of work to be done. We're a bit shorthanded at the moment, so you won't be sitting on your duff reading a sackful of annual reports. We're sending you out into the blue, pronto."
"Into the blue?"
Sprecher stopped at a closed door on the left-hand side of the hallway. "Clients, chum. We have to put somebody's pretty mug in front of our trusting customers. You look like an honest type. Got all your teeth, do you? Should be able to fool them."
"Today?" Nick asked, ruffled.
"No, not today," Sprecher answered, grinning. "The bank usually likes to provide a little training. You can count on at least a month to learn the ropes." He leaned on the handle and opened the door. He walked inside the small meeting room and tossed the manila envelope he'd been carrying onto the conference table. "Take a seat," he said, flinging himself into one of the quilted leather chairs. "Make yourself at home."
Nick pulled out a chair and sat across the table from his new boss. His momentary panic settled, giving way to the usual vague unease that accompanied his arrival at a new post. But he recognized a new sensation, too--a stubborn disbelief that he was actually there.
You're in, Nick told himself in the admonishing tone that had belonged to his father. Keep your mouth closed and your ears open. Become one of them.
Peter Sprecher pulled a sheaf of papers from the envelope. "Your life in four lines, single spaced. Says here you're from Los Angeles."
"I grew up there, but I haven't called it home for a while."
"Ah, Sodom and Gomorrah rolled into one. Love the place, myself." Sprecher shook loose a Marlboro and offered the pack to Nick, who declined. "Didn't figure you for a tobacco fiend. You look fit enough to run a damned marathon. Some advice? Calm down, boy. You're in Switzerland. Slow and steady, that's our motto. Remember that."
"I'll keep it in mind."
"Liar," Sprecher laughed. "I can see you've got a bee buzzing about your bonnet. Sit too damn straight. That will be Cerruti's problem, not mine." He lowered his head and puffed on his cigarette while studying the new employee's papers. "Marine, eh? An officer. That explains it."
"Four years," said Nick. He was trying hard to sit more casually--drop a shoulder, maybe slouch a little. It wasn't easy.
"What d'ya do?"
"Infantry. I had a reconnaissance platoon. Half the time we trained. The other half we floated around the Pacific waiting for a crisis to flare up so that we could put our training to use. We never did." That was the company line, and he'd been sworn to keep it.
"Says here you worked in New York. Four months only. What happened?"
Nick kept his answer brief. When lying, he knew it best to stay within the shadow of the truth. "It wasn't what I had expected. I didn't feel at home there, at work or in the city."
"So you decided to seek your fortune abroad?"
"I've lived in the States my whole life. One day I realized that it was time for something new. Once I made the decision, I got out as quickly as I could."
"Wish I'd had the guts to do something like that. Alas, for me it's too late." Sprecher exhaled a cloud of smoke toward the ceiling. "Been here before?"
"To the bank?"
"To Switzerland. Someone in your family is Swiss, isn't he? Hard to pick up a passport any other way."
"It's been a long time," said Nick, purposely keeping his answer oblique. Seventeen years, actually. He'd been eleven, and his father had brought him inside this same building. It had been a social visit, the great Alex Neumann poking his head into the offices of his former colleagues, exchanging a few words before presenting little Nicholas as if he were an exotic trophy from a far-off land. "The passport comes from my father's side. We spoke Swiss-German together at home."
"Did you? How quaint." Sprecher stubbed out his cigarette and brought his chair closer to the table so that he sat directly facing Nick. "Enough small talk, then. Welcome to the United Swiss Bank, Mr. Neumann. You've been assigned to Finanz Kundenberatung, Abteilung 4. Financial Client Management, section 4. Our small family deals with private individuals from the Middle East and southern Europe, that is Italy, Greece, and Turkey. Right now we handle approximately seven hundred accounts with assets totaling over two billion U.S. dollars. In the end that's still the only currency worth a damn.
"Most of our clients are individuals who hold numbered accounts with the bank. You might see their names penciled somewhere inside their files. Penciled, mind you. Erasable. They are to remain officially anonymous. We don't keep permanent records regarding their identity in the office. That information is kept in DZ, Dokumentation Zentrale. Stalag 17, we call it." Sprecher wagged a long finger at Nick. "Several of our more important clients are known only to the top brass of the bank. Keep it that way. Any inclination you may have about getting to know them personally had better stop now. Understood?"
"Understood," said Nick. The help does not mix with the guests.
"Here's the drill: A client will call, give you his account number, probably want to know his cash balance or the value of the stocks in his portfolio. Before you give out any information, confirm his or her identity. All our clients have code words to identify themselves. Ask for it. Maybe ask their birthday on top of that. Makes them feel secure. But that's as far as your curiosity runs. If a client wants to transfer fifty thousand deutsche marks a week to an account in Palermo, you say, 'Prego, Signore. Con gusto.' If he insists on sending monthly cash wires to a dozen John Does at a dozen different banks in Washington, D.C., you say, 'Of course, sir. It's my pleasure.' Where our clients' money comes from and what they choose to do with it are entirely their own business."
Nick kept his wry comments to himself and concentrated on keeping straight all the information being tossed his way.
Sprecher stood from his chair and walked to the window, which overlooked the Bahnhofstrasse. "Hear the drums?" he asked, tilting his head toward the demonstrators who paraded in front of the bank. "No? Get up and come over here. Look down there."
Nick rose and walked to Sprecher's side, from where he could see the assembly of fifteen or twenty protesters.
"Barbarians at the gate," said Sprecher. "The natives are growing restless."
"There have been calls for greater disclosure of the bank's activities in the past," Nick said. "The search for assets belonging to customers killed during the Second War. The banks handled that problem."
"By using the nation's gold reserves to set up a survivors' fund. Cost us seven billion francs! And still we stonewalled them over direct access to our records. The past is verboten. You can be sure of one thing: Swiss banks must be built of the hardest Bernadino granite, not of porous sandstone." Sprecher glanced at his watch, then dismissed the demonstrators with a wave. "Now more than ever we have to keep our mouths shut and do as we're told. Granite, Neumann. Anyway, that's enough of Saint Peter's pap for now. You're to go to Dr. Schon at personnel to have an identification card made up, get a handbook, and take care of all the other niceties that make our beloved institution such a wonderful place to work. Rules, Mr. Neumann. Rules."
Nick leaned forward, listening carefully while directions to the personnel director's office were given. Rules, he repeated to himself. The admonition sent him back to his first day at Officer Candidate School. The voices here were softer and the barracks nicer, but all in all it was the same. New organization, new rules, and no room to mess up.
"And one last thing," said Sprecher. "Dr. Schon can be a little testy sometimes. Americans are not a favorite topic. The less said the better."
From his window on the Fourth Floor, Wolfgang Kaiser stared down upon the damp heads of the demonstrators gathered in front of his bank. Forty years he had worked at the United Swiss Bank, the last seventeen as chairman. In that time, he could recall only one other demonstration taking place on the steps of the bank--a protest against the bank's investments in South Africa. He had frowned on the practice of apartheid as much as the next man, but politics simply didn't factor into a business decision. As a rule, Afrikaners were damned good clients. Paid back their loans on time. Kept a decent amount on deposit. Lord knows they held gold bars up to their eyeballs.
Kaiser gave each end of his mustache a brief tug and moved away from the window. Though of medium height, he was a formidable man. Clothed, as was his custom, in bespoke navy worsted, he could be mistaken only for Lord of the Manor. But his broad shoulders, plowman's back, and stout legs testified to a common upbringing. And of his less than noble parentage he carried a permanent reminder: his left arm, damaged at birth by the enthusiastic forceps of a drunken midwife, was thin and limp, a paralyzed appendage. Despite constant exercise during his early years, the arm had remained atrophied and would always be two inches shorter than the right.
Kaiser circled his desk, staring at the telephone. He was waiting for a call. A brief message that would bring the past into the present. Word that the circle was closing. He could not expel from his mind the message written on one of the crude placards below. "Child Killers," it read. He didn't know what exactly it made reference to, but still the words stung. Damned press! Vultures were thrilled to have such an easy target. The evil bankers so eager to accommodate the world's baddies. Horseshit! If not us, then somebody else. Austria, Luxembourg, the Cayman Islands. The competition was closing in.
The phone on his desk buzzed. He pounced on it in three swift steps. "Kaiser."
"Guten Morgen, Herr Direktor. Brunner speaking. "Well?"
"The boy has arrived," said the hall porter. "He came in at nine o'clock sharp."
"And how is he?" Kaiser had seen photographs of him over the years. More recently, he had viewed a videotape of the boy's interview. Still, he could not stop himself from asking, "Does he look like his father?"
"A few pounds heavier, perhaps. Otherwise, a spitting image. I sent him to Mr. Sprecher."
"Yes, I've been informed. Thank you, Hugo."
Kaiser hung up the phone and took a seat behind his desk. He turned his thoughts to the young man sitting two floors below him, and soon a faint smile pushed up the corners of his mouth. "Welcome to Switzerland, Nicholas Alexander Neumann," he whispered. "It's been so long since we last met. So very, very long."
What People are Saying About This
A brilliant thriller that holds you in a vice grip from the first page to the last. It is the strongest, most original suspense fiction debut I've read in a while. If you like The Day After Tomorrow and Absolute Power, you'll love Numbered Account.
A taut, sophisticated, and very well-written international thriller. Christopher Reich, a former insider, opens the vault and lets us peek inside the inner sanctum of secrets...
On Tuesday, February 3, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Christopher Reich, author of NUMBERED ACCOUNT.
Moderator: Christopher Reich is joining us to chat live about his debut suspense thriller, NUMBERED ACCOUNT. Welcome, Mr. Reich! We're thrilled you could join us tonight!
Christopher Reich: It's great to be here talking from San Francisco, California!
Tracey from Greenwich, CT: How much of your book did you have to research, or did you find that you knew enough, having worked in the business?
Christopher Reich: Having worked in a Swiss Bank for four years, I was able to draw upon the well of my experience to write NUMBERED ACCOUNT, so I was very lucky that 95 percent of this book came from my own mind, my own gray matter. The only research necessary was to authenticate the types of armaments discussed in the second half of the book, e.g. rogue Russian nuclear weapons, and missiles, helicopters, etc. If you have any questions, just see JANE'S MILITARY DEFENSE GUIDE.
William from Princeton, NJ: Do you read other authors of suspense fiction? Who? What authors, in your opinion, are the "masters" of the genre?
Christopher Reich: Easy question. My greatest influence is British novelist John Le Carré. No one else provides such mastery of character and plot as Le Carré. Just read THE NIGHT MANAGER -- it's brilliant. What I look for in a novel is not just a suspenseful story but an equally suspenseful development of character. The hardest thing about being a writer is not fashioning an exciting story, it's in creating three-dimensional, believable human characters, as flawed as you or I.
Manny from Center Moriches, NY: Do you think the Swiss banks made adequate apologies for having harbored money stolen from Jewish Holocaust victims by Nazi war criminals? Did they make a sufficient effort to find all the dispossessed families?
Christopher Reich: Absolutely not. The Swiss purposely stonewalled the relatives of Holocaust survivors who may have held accounts at their banks. But opening a numbered account is like dealing with the devil. One trades anonymity and the absolute security that his money will be well looked after for the promise that those looking into the status of the numbered account will be met by a brick wall. The Swiss banks showed extreme callousness in a situation which demanded extreme compassion. They purposely followed their own rules to a T -- which I remind all those participating tonight that everyone who opened a number account was very, very clearly made aware of. In the Swiss banker's defense, all they did was follow their own rules, but we must realize that if ever a situation existed where rules were not to be followed, it was after the annihilation of six million Jews in Hitler's death camps.
Gordon from Casper, WY: Have you ever been interviewed (or interrogated) by American agents about some of the Swiss accounts you handled?
Christopher Reich: The second day of my employment at one of Switzerland's largest banks, we had a meeting with an agent of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration. In that meeting, the agent clearly outlined to the Swiss portfolio managers assembled what transactions we should look out for that might indicate money of illegal provenance. For example, from drug-trafficking, the sale of illegal arms, or money-laundering. Immediately after the meeting, we reconvened in our own offices, and the feeling present was one of disbelief rather than cooperation. Our senior managers laughed at the thought that we might actually cooperate with this naive American agent. Remember, the Swiss banks are bankers, not policemen! American morality does not extend outside the 50 states.
Raoul from Savannah, GA: Swiss banking has this long-standing reputation for secrecy under any and all conditions. With newer generations of bankers, is the character of Swiss banking changing?
Christopher Reich: Absolutely. The new generation of Swiss bankers is no longer content to wear the mantle of neutrality which so long has cloaked not only the Swiss government but Swiss banks. In our world, inaction is perceived as as great an action as is any definable decision one way or the other. So the times have changed. One need look no farther than the Swiss government's decision to post the names attached to more than 2,000 dormant accounts belonging to individuals who lost their lives in the Second World War.
Bob from Cape Elizabeth, ME: I am a doctor, and I have been working on an idea for a novel. But I must know,what was your wife's reaction when you quit a successful banking career to write NUMBERED ACCOUNT full-time?
Christopher Reich: Good question. Our decision was a joint one. At the time, I had been living my life for three years on a succession of jet planes to exotic capitals which I never had the chance to see. I had been living too long in smoke-filled boardrooms with too little sleep. But my advice to anyone out there who wants to be a writer is simple. One take a good long look in the mirror and ask yourself, "Can I really write?" Two "Do I have a story to tell -- one that hasn't been out there 1,000 times before?" And three"Do I have the wherewithal to sit my butt down on a hard wooden chair for eight hours a day and write a novel for as long as it takes?" Because here's the best piece of advice I can giveYour first work has to be your best work, and don't you dare show it to anybody until it is as good, as absolutely perfect, as you can humanly make it.
Walter from San Jose, CA: Could you talk to us about the book's development? How much of the story had you conceived before finishing it, and how much came to you as you went along? I can imagine that the story sprang from your experience in Swiss banking, but where did you begin when thinking about how to shape the novel?
Christopher Reich: I am a firm believer that good novels begin with good outlines. Having said this, for my first novel, I broke that rule, Walter. For NUMBERED ACCOUNT I was able to, in detail, conceive the first act of the story which concerns a young American, a former United States Marine Officer and graduate of Harvard Business School, who abandons a successful career on Wall Street and a beautiful fiancée to track down his father's murderer in a Swiss bank in Zürich. Specifically, I had outlined the first ten chapters of the book when I started writing it, but at the same time, I had written in-depth 25-page biographies of each of the five main characters of the story, so I knew, whatever way the plot twisted, how the characters would react to those changes, unless I had to some extent the basis upon which to write the rest of the novel. A certain magic appears when one puts pen to paper. But make darn sure you know the story you want to tell before you put pen to paper. For example, for my second novel, which I am now beginning, I have been researching the subject matter for five months, and only one month ago did I start outlining the story. So this time I will be smart enough to know the entire story before I begin.
Uli from Louisville, KY: Hi, Mr. Reich! I just bought your book, and I can't wait to read it! One questionMy husband and I are planning our upcoming vacation to Switzerland, and we'd love to know your recommendations for first-time travelers. What are your favorite places to visit and things to do near Zürich?
Christopher Reich: I am so envious that you are heading over before I am! First on my list of things to do is to have a delicious Swiss meal. As mentioned in my book, NUMBERED ACCOUNT, you absolutely must go to Emilio's in Zürich and try the succulent chicken. It is sinful! And I have to stop now, or else I'll have to run out and buy one myself! Outside of Zürich, I recommend a beautiful ski town called Arosa, about a one and a half hour train ride south of Zürich. The skiing is magnificent, and the walking trails second to none in Switzerland! If you go, stay at the Hotel Bellevue.
Jilly from Rancho Mirage, CA: From a writer who hopes one day to publish, could you tell us a little about what steps you took to get NUMBERED ACCOUNT into print? Did it take a long time before it received attention? Did you have an agent? Any advice to a "weekend novelist"?
Christopher Reich: Jilly, I was the luckiest man in the world! Through personal connections, I was able to get the first 100 pages of NUMBERED ACCOUNT into the hands of number-one bestselling novelist James Patterson. Jim called me up a few days after receiving my pages and said he'd never read a better first hundred pages by a first-time writer in his life, and that he would break a standing rule of 17 years and demand that his agent takes me as a client. So sorry, Jilly, I never had to go through any of the difficulties to find an agent that many writers do. But having said that, my agent spent nine months with me rewriting my novel. We went through six drafts of the book until he deemed it "ready for submission" to seven of New York's largest publishing houses. My agent demanded that the publishers respond within five days. Needless to say, by Friday of that week, I was a nervous wreck! That same day, I had discovered that my wife was pregnant with our first child and had calculated that we would not be able to make our third mortgage payment on our new house. At 3 00 Friday afternoon, at the very end of my wits, my agent phoned me up and told me he had sold my book to Delacorte Press -- for $900,000. Since that time, we've sold the book to 15 other countries.... Anyway, that's it. Wow!!! Talk about changing your life in a second!
Paris from Rome, NY: Hi, Chris. I know this is your first published book, but I am wondering if this is your first attempt at a novel. Have you ever tried to publish before?
Christopher Reich: Believe it or not, I have no novels hidden in the top drawer of my dresser. Not only is this my first attempt at a novel but I never even took one college English class. If you want to learn how to write, read, and read a lot. And I suggest the classics.
Christopher from texarkana: In the very early scene with Sylvia Schon, Nick is described as a "refugee from Wall Street," and that the Americans with the United Swiss Bank only last for a maximum of 14 months. Is this typical of Americans there? I read that you were briefly a stockbroker in L.A. before heading to Switzerland. How much, if any, of Nick's character is like you?
Christopher Reich: First of all, no, it's not typical of Americans to quit working in Swiss banking after 14 months. This was a dramatic device used to underline the difficulty of Nick's position at the bank. So yes, I was a stockbroker for two years in L.A. before I attended business school in Texas, and the one piece of advice I have to give about that is, think twice about giving your money to any stockbroker. A larger group of sharks you'll never find.
Louisa from Bridgeport, CT: The prologue to NUMBERED ACCOUNT is so haunting and intriguing, it's quite cinematic. Have there been any movie offers?
Christopher Reich: There have been a lot of offers. My agent is nice enough to shield me from the constant battery of Hollywood producers demanding to buy NUMBERED ACCOUNT. We will only sell the book once the book has achieved status as a bestseller, and then only to the producer we feel will do the book justice. Costa-Gavres -- are you listening?
Cynthia from Miami, FL: It seems that NUMBERED ACCOUNT would be a very difficult book for anyone without your experience to write. I read that you climbed Mount Kilimanjaro when you were only 15 years old! Could you tell us more about this? Do you have any plans for a book drawing on this experience?
Christopher Reich: When I was 15, I attended an Outward Bound school in East Africa. The final expedition we made was the ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro. Don't be overly impressed.... Kilimanjaro, while very high (approximately 21,000 feet at the summit), is not a demanding alpine climb. You need a good set of lungs and a strong pair of legs, and you can make it to the top! As a matter of fact, I have a very good idea for a book I would like to write about my experiences at that school. It would be a book aimed at young adults, and I hope to have time to attack it in the next two years. If you ever get a chance, though, go to Kenya and climb Kilimanjaro. It is an unforgettable experience!
Jared from Baltimore, MD: Nick Neumann hears this repeated phrase his father said to him in his head "Become one of them" -- it has a chilling effect. Is this at all a phrase you heard in your head in your own experience? Is there any parallel?
Christopher Reich: Absolutely. My only intention as a Swiss banker was to do my job as well as I could and meet the demands of my superiors. I must admit that at no time did I ever feel as if I was betraying the slightest sense of my own moral code, but I wanted to succeed, and I would do anything to get there. You can thank Donald Trump for that!
Trevor from Madison, WI: Mr. Reich, have you given up working in banking? Are you writing full-time now?
Christopher Reich: I made too much money on this book to ever even consider going back to a career in Swiss banking.... But hey, Trevor, you wanna know the truth? I don't think they'd take me back! I'm marooned here in the States, and I'm thrilled to be a novelist full-time!
Paul from New Hampshire: Having seen life both on Wall Street and inside Swiss banking, which is more ruthless? How much do the two realms have in common?
Christopher Reich: Wall Street is far more ruthless.... The Swiss banks, though bound by a code of secrecy, place a premium on their clients' financial well-being. I'm afraid I can't say the same about the brokers and traders on Wall Street. Compensation is too strongly tied to commissions generated and profits earned for the firm in America to guarantee that the client's interest is paramount to the Wall Street broker. Let there be no doubt that while the Swiss bankers may be conservative, they value their clients' well-being over all else.
Felix from New York, NY: What was it like working in Switzerland with a background as an American stockbroker? Are the two worlds that different?
Christopher Reich: The worlds are very different. In Switzerland, the policy is do not ask, do not tell. In America, stockbrokers want to know everything from A to Z about their clients. In Switzerland, one is trained not to ask. There can be no greater difference than that.
Moderator: Mr. Reich, it was such a pleasure having you online tonight. Congratulations on the publication of NUMBERED ACCOUNT. Please join us again upon the publication of your next book!
Christopher Reich: Can't wait to be back, and thank you very much!
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Bought this on a whim and turned out to be the best book I've read in 5 years. Fascinating detail of the Swiss banking industry, a beautiful woman, cloak and dagger, can't trust anybody - the whole nine yards !!
Having enjoyed Reich's later books, I wanted to see how he started it all. Numbered Account had my attention from the get-go and never let up. I was reading it at every moment...even the awkward ones!
This is a "sit on the edge of your chair" thriller that will keep you guessing until the last 2 pages. Twists and turns that will keep you up at night. We both loved it.
Christopher Reich gets better with each book he writes. This is one of his earlier books and although it is a fairly good read the newer Reich books are pure dynamite. Still, I would recommend buying and reading this book.
I loved it! It's a great thriller. I'm not much of a reader, but when I find a great book (like this one) I get hooked. Can't wait for his next one.
Harvard Business graduate and ex-marine Nick Neumann gives up a Wall Street career to solve his father¿s 17-year-old murder and gets mixed up in the international arms and drug trade.My complaints are pretty much the same as the other Reich novel I read: flat characters, rather predictable story line, underwhelming love story. It certainly kept my attention, and it didn¿t annoy me since I knew what I was getting into, and would read another when I needed a light, predictable action book.
Although I enjoyed "Numbered Account" by Christopher Reich I found that this book did not have the grip of a good thriller. The suspense was mild and anti-climactic in a lot of areas. The writing seemed to be more matter-of-fact instead of dramatic.
Impressive debut novel from Reich. I was turned onto Reich after reading his short story about Nick Neumann in "Thriller" - and Neumann is the main protagonist in Numbered Account. Swiss banking, corporate espionage, political intrigue, international terrorism all wrapped up in one entertaining book.
Great book, very detailed. About 600 pgs. Definitely recommend reading this one.
A wonderful new menace under the ocean made believable by scientific data.
This book not only opens up the secret world of Swiss banking, but takes the reader on an exciting journey around the land of the Alps and into the minds of financial geniuses. Very fun to read, and so suspenseful that I often read for hours after I should have just to see what was happening next. Great read, can't wait for more from this author.
Plot twists and turns make this book interesting right to the end. After working in domestic banking 30 years, a real eye opener to the international scene. The Bank Secrecy Act was aimed at this type of abuse. I didn't want to put it down.
Decided to purchase this book to give Mr. Reich a try. It was much, much better than expected. I'm purchasing more of his works. I now have high expectation and I'm hoping his later novels will meet them. Numbered account is a great read! I highly recommend it!
Very well written and hard to put down.
Excellent book. Fast paced, and an interesting look into the Swiss mindset and its financial and judicial systems. Locations are vividly written. Its many twists and turns to keep you on the edge of your seat. Even while the hero of the story is being seduced by the dark side you keep rooting for hiim to stay true. Highly recommend.
Wordy but intriguing