Though the names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent, this is a true story, containing all the ingredients of a great narrative a main character the reader can relate to, an appealing love interest, money, danger, the need for acceptance, suspense and even the realization (in some form) of the American dream. Mezrich (Bringing Down the House) presents wanna-be financial star "John Malcolm," who accepts a nebulous job offer in Japan in the mid-1990s and leaves his middle-class New Jersey postcollege aimless existence for an adventure he might have dreamed of had he any idea of what the big boys' world of finance was really like. After hitting the ground at top speed from day one, John and his cohorts all male, mostly Ivy League graduates learn their way around the lucrative, fast-paced and legal-but-barely-palatable world of cowboy-style Asian market finance. In the process, they make millions (sometimes per trade) and pride themselves on knowing when to get in and how to spot their exit point. Their bottom line is all that matters; everything else from emotion to opinion is secondary. In a truly engaging look at how an innocent who thinks he knows the world does actually end up understanding a small but significant piece of it, Mezrich manages to incorporate solid journalism into a narrative that just plain works. Agent, David Vigliano. (May) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Sex, money, and more than a whiff of criminal activity enliven this too-good-to-be-true real-life business drama. With the exception of Bringing Down the House (2002), which profiled six MIT students who scammed the Vegas casinos, Mezrich has made a career in fictional thrillers (Reaper, 1998, etc.), which doesn't make him unqualified to write nonfiction but definitely makes him suspect when the going gets pulpy. After an author's note that tells us all the main characters' names have been changed, we meet our bright young star: John Malcolm, an ex-Princeton football player who lands a job as a Nikkei trader in Osaka in the 1990s, working for Kidder Peabody superstar Dean Carney. After an accounting screw-up leaves Malcolm's division unemployed, he gets hired by Barings and meets the venerable British bank's Singapore hotshot, Nick Leeson. In January 1995, when an earthquake rattles Japan and the Nikkei, it turns out that not only had Leeson had been betting billions on the Nikkei rising, he'd been betting the company's own money with no client to back it up. The resulting catastrophe almost destroyed Barings, which laid off 1,200 people, including Malcolm. He bounced back with a job at Carney's hot new hedge fund, where rules were broken and scruples shattered in the name of ungodly amounts of profit. Here's where the tale begins to resemble one of Mezrich's thrillers: the Yakuza show up, and there's even a gorgeous girlfriend whispering get-out-before-it's-too-late warnings in Malcolm's ear. The author knows how to plot his story, giving his protagonist moral dilemmas to solve at regular, well-timed intervals and painting it all against a Boiler Room-like background of easy money,sports cars, and frat-boy Americans going wild in Tokyo's seedy underbelly. But the beats are too perfectly synchronized, the action too perfectly dramatic, and the people too reminiscent of stock movie characters. Undeniably fun, but readers may well wonder just how much of this could actually be true. Agent: Michael Harriot/Vigliano Associate