The Cheltenham Literature Festival – 5th to 14th October 2018
Thriller set in London and Sana’a (an intriguing tale…)
11th November 2017
Trading Down by Stephen Norman, thriller set in London and Sana’a.
Trading Down is Stephen Norman’s first book – and it is a cracker, a real page turner!
Alternate chapters are set in Yemen in 2007 and London in 2012. In Yemen, the Hashemi family are awaiting the return of husband and father, Jafar, who had been on a business trip to Dubai. He does not arrive, and they learn he has been kidnapped after landing…A US$2m ransom is demanded for his safe return. They sell many of their possessions in Sana’a, and uncle Saeed in Dubai tries to withdraw a large sum of cash from the business account with SBS, the local branch of a major global operation. There is much prevarication by the bank and they eventually turn down his request. The family back in Yemen is not in a good place… until they (or more particularly daughter, Zahra) are ‘offered’ a solution…
Fast forward to London, 2012. Chris Peters is one of the very senior IT professionals employed by SBS. He has responsibility for a worldwide network of data centres that underpin the whole of the bank’s operations – from trading to security to personnel. The system cannot be allowed to go down… First, there is an incident in one of the US data centres. Air conditioners fail to come on, and the computers seriously overheat – creating panic. Is it a freak accident or sabotage? Then, months later, a programme used to ‘shuffle’ columns of data in test situations is deployed live in Hong Kong, with disastrous results. Email addresses, deals done, personal data, are all randomly mixed up – so that every line appears to make sense, but is in fact nonsense. This time Chris is positive it is sabotage, and he is involved in a race against time to find the perpetrator before the ‘Hong Kong experience’ is deployed across all the bank’s global IT systems. It would be the end of the bank – a disaster from which it could not recover.
The London and Sana’a strands of the book of course come together as the dramatic climax approaches.
As with many thrillers, it is the believability of the scenarios with which we are presented that absolutely makes the book. Stephen did not have to do much research. Until he began to write full time in 2012, he had been – for 20 years – at the centre of investment banking IT. He was Chief Technology Officer at Merrill Lynch, and then CIO of RBS Global Markets. His intimate knowledge of both IT and Banking absolutely shine through. I do not pretend to understand the intricacies of either, but I don’t think the reader needs to. Sufficient to accept that Stephen knows what he is talking about…and that it is all quite frightening.
A really very good first book. Highly recommended.
Tony for the TripFiction team
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