“A dizzying, enjoyable caper…After reading this hard-to-put down thriller, you may put all your money in your mattress.”
—Los Angeles Daily News
-“Never a dull moment, and Ms Neville makes it all the more plausible because of her intmiate knowledge of how international banking works. She plots well and takes the reader through the intrigues and backbiting of immense corporations…[A Calculated Risk] churns up wave after wave of excitement.”
–The New York Times
“A Calculated Risk… set in the complex world of banking and fraud, hooks within minutes…A first-rate page-turner, written with real intelligence.”
–Good Book Guide, U.K.
“… banking emerges from its subdued pinstripes. “A Calculated Risk”moves swiftly and satisfyingly while exuding plausibility.”
–New York Reporter Dispatch
“…a gripping tale of financial shenanigans and romance.”
–What’s New: (Beyond Bestsellers)
“A Calculated Risk is an enthralling read that can be enjoyed at a number of different levels, depending on the depth of the dive. The story is told with a verve and a panache that will captivate and hold the reader until the last page is turned…The Eight was a tough act to follow, but this author has again demonstrated her intriguing ability to apply chess moves to plotting and produce a fascinating work in a new arena she obviously knows well.”
“Neville has some mighty nasty things to say about the money game… do you doubt her?”
–The Philadelphia Enquirer
“Intriguing and well-written…a high-tech, high-stakes, socially responsible banking novel…a lot of fun.”
–The Washington Post
‘When Neville conceived A Calculated Risk… the scams portrayed in the book were figments of her imagination. They turned out to be prophetic.”
–The Roanoke Times
“A lean, taut thriller… when you’re dealing with bankers, you need to recognize the possibility that someone in the building might be a bigger crook than you are–and that they’re playing for keeps.”
– San Jose Mercury News
“… humor, plus the delectable back-stabbing that is the hallmark of corporate ladder climbers, makes A Calculated Risk” a no-fail winner.”
–Newport News Daily Press
“LInking a volatile female bank executive with computer expertise to n iconoclastic genius angry with financial institutions, this novel romps into stealth and excitement… Clever, sardonic and somewhat unnerving to anyone with a bank account, this combines financial wizardry, suspense, and a little romance.”
–Tribune Daily News
“The author keeps her plot twisting and turning and manages to build up a fine degree of tension… After reading her novel, I’m thinking seriously of closing my bank accounts and putting my money in my mattress.”
–Los Angeles Times
“Anyone who’s ever wanted to get back at an employer should read should read Katherine Neville’s A Calculated Risk… Neville makes the world of banking and auditing so exciting… This is an unusual subject for a mystery, and she handles it well.”
–Kansas City, MO Star
“A splendid first rate work of fiction that is bound to thrill everyone’s imagination. This is a calculating page turner which carries the idea of the dare and the gamble to ever new lengths. First with The Eight and now with A Calculated Risk Katherine Neville has carried the art of fiction to ever new heights.
–The New England Review of Books
“… a highly convincing insider’s view of international banking.”
-Publishing News, UK
Manchester Evening News, UK
“… a thrilling and entertaining tale of high-finance games, romance and deceit… This gripping novel is full of action, emotion and intrigue and will have readers captivated.”
–Gisborne Herald, New Zealand
“Katherine Neville is likely to make you cast a jaundiced eye over the entire banking community… What’s likely to make you nervous about this is how plausible it all seems.”
–The Seattle Times
“Katherine Neville has combined all the elements for an unputdownable read: financial maneuvering, a passionate and almost obsessive love affair, the meeting of two equals on what is usually a masculine turf–all played out against a backdrop of San Francisco, New York and a gorgeous Greek island.”
–The Costco Connection
–Interview with Tacoma News Tribune, Tacoma, Washington
There are two likely responses most of us would have to the question, “How safe is your money?”
1. “What money?
2. “Well, now that you mention it, I don’t know.”
In a way, author Katherine Neville is interested in both responses. According to her latest novel, “A Calculated Risk”, our money exists in increasingly phantom forms and isn’t very safe at all.
And as the saying goes, Neville knows whereof she speaks. She blazed her way onto the best-seller list a few years ago with a novel called “The Eight,” a labyrinthine tale set in both the Middle Ages and the 1970s and spun the legend of Charlemagne’s lost chess pieces.
But before writing “The Eight,” Neville worked for a Big 8 – CPA firm, that is. She also designed financial computer programs for the likes of Honeywell, OPEC and the Algerian government. She worked with computers for Uncle Sam and served as a vice president at Bank of America.
In fact, Neville’s been such a globe-trotting computer wizard that she seemed to regard her 17-city book tour — which paused at Seattle’s Four Seasons Hotel — as little more than a Sunday drive.
“It’s been fun,” she said finishing a cup of Starbucks in the Four Seasons lobby. “Most people are drawn to the computer fraud in the novel, but actually I tried to include just about every kind of large-scale theft that I could think of. I guess the computer stuff just has more appeal.”
Most of “A Calculated Risk” is appealing partly because it doesn’t take itself too seriously, partly because it’s a carnival of dizzying subplots, but mainly because it skewers greed and will scare the balance sheet out of anyone who does anything with money except hide it under a mattress. And Neville will have even you taking a second glance at the mattress.
The protagonist of “A Calculated Risk” is a young woman named Verity Banks. (Like Dickens, Neville is a novelist who believes characters’ names were meant to have fun with.) Verity is almost too smart for her own good and decidedly fed up with the boring middle managers at the San Francisco bank in which she works.
So to show the dullards how vulnerable their international banking system is, she decides to steal (temporarily) many millions of dollars, then patiently explain how she did it. Along the way, she enters a friendly competition with her former mentor, a handsome, weird, reclusive computer genius named Zoltan Tor. The hunkish hacker Z-Man is like a cross between Bill Gates and Warren Beatty.
From there the subplots proliferate like a hard-drive gone haywire. We get a high-speed tour not just of international computer fraud but of counterfeit currencies, swiped securities, cornered markets and inside trading. Of course, both in romance and finance, our heroine Verity bytes off more than she can program.
Neville says she got the idea for “A Calculated Risk” some 10 years ago, when she worked for Bank of America. “At first my worry was that people would read the book, get ideas and commit fraud of some kind,” she said. “But then, as each year went by and another huge financial crime occurred, I worried that people would think I was just borrowing from the headlines.
“There are a few more safeguards in international financial than there were in the’80s,” she said. “But people still figure that only 15 percent of the losses are accounted for, so the ripoffs are still in the billions of dollars. All you have to do is look at the BCCI scandal to get a hint of the sums involved.”
Two simple premises guiding Neville’s novel are hard to dismiss. The first: When human beings exchanged things of value, such as cows or animal hides, theft was difficult. Coins and jewelry are easier to than cows, bank notes are easier than coins and ghostly electronic impulses are easiest of all — because a thief doesn’t actually have to pocket them, and because they can represent massive amounts of cash.
The second premise: In the age of computer-enhanced global economy, the world still operates with horse-and-buggy methods. “We need more international agreements on how to trade money with computers, how to print currencies, how to complete banking transactions — everything.” Neville said.
The banking VP-turned-author is a renaissance woman (she’s worked as a fashion model and commercial photographer) whose literary tastes belong to the golden age of the novel.
“I love Dickens, Alexander Dumas, even John Galsworthy,” she confessed “I like the baroque plots and melodrama. I like to write little caricatures that remind me of Leonardo da Vinci’s sketches.”
Her unpretentious attitude toward the novel makes for fast, fun but informative reading. The love scenes are a little wooden, and some of the subplots are outlandish, but “A Calculated Risk” is as entertaining a cautionary tale as you’re likely to encounter.
Neville’s extensive use of chess in “The Eight” has made her an international favorite of chess masters, who constantly write her with arcane information about famous games and matches. (In “A Calculated Risk,” she throws in a match featuring one of the Rothchilds.)
“Chess is very adaptable for literary purposes, of course,” Neville said, “but it also seems an inexhaustible source of lore. I’m the world’s worst (chess) player, but the grand masters have invited me to give a paper in Moscow on some little-known piece of chess history.”
Although she lives in Virginia, Neville has been on the move in Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Turkey, researching a novel that’s set between the world wars.
“I’m discovering not so much how history repeats itself as how it presents us with similar choices. I wish everyone would read John Maynard Keynes’ “The Economic Consequences of Peace” again. Now that the (Berlin) Wall is down, the real work begins. We’re going to need something like the Marshall Plan.”
As for America’s brewing bank problems, Neville claims to be almost as much in the dark as, say, your average bank examiner. “I can’t say how big the bank crisis will be,” she says, “because no one has told us how big the S&L crisis was. But I do argue that the 1980s were virtually identical to the 1880s, the age of Jay Gould and the other robber barons.
“What interested me at B of A was that someone who once worked for us would get caught mishandling funds at another bank, but B of A wouldn’t bother to go back over it’s own books to see if it had happened before. That was amazing to me.”
And where does the voice of financial doom and gloom put her money?
“Well, I don’t really have that much to worry about,” she said with the sly smile of a chess player. “But I do my best to see that it’s secure and stable, and I sure don’t let it lie idly around in banks or the stock exchange.”
–Interview with Seattle Times, Seattle, Washington
It’s not that you are exactly overburdened with trust for your local savings and loan, after all the bad-loan-and-bailout scandals.
But Katherine Neville is likely to make you cast a jaundiced eye over the entire banking community.
Her new book, “A Calculated Risk” is a caper novel with a feminist heroine who knocks off the fictitious Bank of the World in an electronic scam, just for the fun of matching wits with her former mentor and lover. (Well, also the fun of making $3 million, by “borrowing” a billion electronically and investing it for three months.)
What’s likely to make you nervous about this is how plausible it all seems. And one reason is Neville’s background in computers and banks: A former Bank of America vice president, she also helped design computer systems for the Algerian government, OPEC, IBM, Honeywell, Deutsche Bundesbank and the New York Stock Exchange.
Several years ago, Neville began toying with the idea of dropping the number-crunching in favor of the novel. She actually began plotting “A Calculated Risk” in 1980, and started writing the first draft in 1984, at the same time she was working on her first published novel, “The Eight.”
“It’s a good thing ‘A Calculated Risk’ didn’t come out sooner,” Neville said yesterday during a stop in her promotion tour.
“Otherwise, no one would believe the BCCI international banking scandal didn’t get the idea from the book, just the way the Hunt brothers went after the silver market after Paul Erdman’s ‘The Silver Bears’ came out. Everything the villains in my book do, the BCCI conspirators did — and they got caught too.
“What makes me angry is that there are still no regulations in banking that prevent the misuse of money. Regulations definitely are needed.”
Neville’s heroine, Verity Banks, is smarter than most of the men around her, but finds her career stalled by a boss who can’t get past the fact that she’s a woman. That happened to Neville more than once. Is she getting even with some of her former colleagues in this book?
“Well, I’d say the three villains are composites of many, many colleagues, I’ve tried not to base one single character on a single person. Many of the people I’ve worked with have been very intelligent and very good at their jobs.
“But I’ve had my share of . . . rapscallions.”
Her new life as a novelist, in high gear since the appearance of “The Eight,” suits Neville much better than her years in banking and electronics. Ironically, all that experience as a computer whiz didn’t stop her computer from “eating the last chapter of this novel,” as she puts it. It took 48 hours on the hotline to hardware and software manufacturers (each of course blaming the other) before the blame was finally fixed on an obsolete operating system that had been installed in the computer by mistake. The last chapter was finally recovered.
The new “A Calculated Risk” is less of a sprawl than the vast complicated “The Eight,” in which Russian chess masters and assassins and magic potions and 19th century French nuns and Napoleon and the long-lost chess service of Charlemagne are floating around in an immensely complex fictional stew.
But the plot of the new novel is still likely to keep you hopping, following the high-tech derring-do from San Francisco and New York to a Greek island that’s one of the keys to the scam. Neville’s eyes light up when she discusses the fun she had writing this one — and plotting the next book, which will be set between World Wars I and II.
Meanwhile, the bankers keep coming up to her at book-signing events in stores and malls.
“They all want to know, is this more fun than banking?” Neville confesses.
“Yes! Fiction is better than reality.”