The Banker's Wife

Written by Cristina Alger

Review written by Judith Sullivan

Judith Sullivan is a writer in Leeds, originally from Baltimore. She is working on a crime series set in Paris. Fluent in French, she’s pretty good with English and has conversational Italian and German. She is working to develop her Yorkshire speak.

The Banker's Wife
Mulholland Books
RRP: £7.99
Released: January 10 2019

This thriller is one-heck of a page-turner as this book offers tension, suspense and surprise. Sadly, those are the strong elements in a tale that at times lacks depth and storytelling that is at times, stilted and facile.  

The titular banker’s wife is one Annabel Werner, the art loving spouse of Matthew Werner, a top-flight legal person at Swiss United, a fictional bank, (not the airline the name would suggest). Flush with cash and surrounded by expensive things, she is however starved of any real intellectual stimulation or social interaction. Annabel’s gilded cage in Geneva splinters into a million little pieces when Annabel learns Matthew has been killed in a light plane crash.

Worse, his fellow passenger was Fatima Amira, a beautiful and intelligent hedge fund manager. Nastiness number three; the flight took off from London and not Zurich, where Matthew had planned to go. Like the reader, numbed Annabel does not buy the tragic accident explanation provided by the police.

Running as a parallel narrative is the story of one Marina Tourneau, until recently a journalist at Press a sort of Economist/People hybrid. She was a star investigative reporter at the magazine, primed for bigger and better things. The reason for her departure from the magazine is her impending wedding to financial whiz kid Grant Ellis. Himself handsome, athletic and smart, Grant is the spawn of one James Ellis, real-estate magnate. Ellis Pere is a handsome, suave zillionaire with White House ambitions (don’t get too excited about parallels - this guy is a democrat!).

When Wife opens, Marina is on holiday in Paris with her intended. The pre-marriage honeymoon is pre-empted by a call from Marina’s mentor/editor Duncan Sander, offering up a hot-hot tip on financial shenanigans linking together villains across the globe. The story if true would make the Panama papers activity seem like minor forgetfulness. Just as Marina weighs whether to chase the story, she hears that the same Duncan has committed suicide. The blow to her personally, is almost as painful as Annabel’s widowhood is to her. Duncan was more ‘big brother’, than ‘boss’ - to Marina and she does not buy the suicide verdict.

These events set in motion a glamorous, multi-continental race along two parallel tracks that slowly veer, and inevitably meet. That crossroads is a place where greed, corruption, lawbreaking and deceit all convene. It’s no big spoiler to reveal the two women, who at the beginning do not know each other, break up the nasty party and help lay groundwork for several people to trade in their Hugo Boss for orange overalls.

It is Grishman-esque in scope and ambition. It is not, however, as tightly wound as those thrillers. The author of The Firm has set the bar high for these super-taut paranoid races away from smiling bad guys - and in my view, Alger only gets there, sometimes.

There are also lapses in coherence. At one point, Marina says she will forgo reporting credit on a piece pointing some big fat fingers of guilt at her soon-to-be father-in-law. Not once does she mention the conflict of interest in a journo reporting on her own relatives by marriage. Few publications would allow such a thing to happen.

Both Annabel and Marina are presented as intelligent, educated women in their 30s. Yet they both go by their married names and seem utterly subservient to their spouses (to-be). Both refer to the annoyances along the way (loss of identity, boredom) but neither reminds me of any of my alpha-female friends in that age range. The characters’ back stories are skimpy and we rarely find out what they read, what music they listen to, what really makes them tick.

Everyone in the cast of Banker’s Wife is beautiful, intelligent, slim and wily, and are all knock-out dressers.  Neither Annabel nor Marina will have rifled through a TK Maxx sale rack. Alger comments on her characters’ movie-star looks so often, I wondered if she’d lifted bits from a saga she was also drafting.

The world of journalism is also straight out of a Hollywood fairy-tale. Press seems to have substantial funds to lavish on reporters, who attend over-the-top glitterati gatherings and zip around the world in pursuit of stories. No idea if Alger has been a reporter lately but today sure as heck is not like the old days. Researcher budgets and parties to-die-for are rare (or they only show up in novels with journalist protagonists).

The end is satisfying - to a point. All the unravelled plot strands are knotted neatly. Bad guys get come-uppance and good guys get closure.

The conclusion is a little too structured. Almost as if Alger had a little scorecard as she started writing and her mission was to fill it out by the end. Which is a pity, because the scandals a la Panama Papers and Bernie Madoff are as evil in literature as in real life. Little people get stung and fat cats get community service. I am all for journalism and fiction that take aim at the insidious behaviour that’s made headlines the world over of late. Alger takes a solid stab at that rectification.  but just doesn’t go far enough into the hows and the whys.  

More the pity that niggling bumps and shortcuts get in the way of a book. Wife for the most part does, as the dust jacket promises, has lots of suspense and tension, cast against a believable backdrop of banker and politician malfeasance.

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