Christoper Reich's The First Billion

14th April 2003

When Christopher Reich's latest and third novel, The First Billion, was being launched in Switzerland, his publisher had those assembled raise their glasses and drink a toast. 'To the Third Reich.'

I thought this was just a joke, but having now read through the book's 600 pages I see it as incipient literary criticism. Reich has talent. I read and admired the pace, the research, and the interweaving plotlines of this current one. I once thought that Reich and I were on the same side, fellow writers braving the world, and read him sympathetically. A friend, the novelist Karla Kuban, first brought him to my attention. She had given advice on his first novel, and was astonished when it sold for a high six figures. I was not, since that book Numbered Account deftly wove into its thriller structure Reich's own extensive experience in the world of Swiss Banking.

But come off it, think again. A Swiss Banker quits banking to make money out of novel-writing? You think just because he's young and good looking he's a good guy? That first novel took characters from the Middle East as its villains. The First Billion seeks instead to reconstitute the Cold War as a favoured ground of thriller writers. From the President (a thinly veiled Putin) down, all Russians are liars, cheats and thugs of the very worst degree. The physical fabric of the nation is crumbling with neglect and corruption. The good guy is an American ex Gulf War pilot now banking tycoon who's ultimate scene of triumph against the Russian evil empire takes place on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

The book includes three gay characters. One is introduced in crudely homophobic terms by a bit part detective, and those terms are rubbed home rather than corrected as we meet the man. Another, good looking and friendly, is dismissed as a gold-digger because his lover was both older and richer than him (not a criticism a younger woman in the same circumstances would have gathered to herself). The third gay character, a British fop with Aids, was one of several friends that formed a close 'family' group around our all-American business hero. We learn that one of this close group is in fact a villain in league with the Russians. We're meant to be kept guessing, but the homophobic nature of the book gives this plot strand away. To be queer in Reich's world means being the lowest of the low. The pansy didn't even have the guts to shoot when his make or break moment came.

'A dynamite thriller' declares James Patterson on this book's dust jacket. Heck, he should know - he shares the same agent and publisher as Reich after all. If you're right wing, part of the western business elite or wanting to be, amused by homophobia, gladdened to see the rest of the world as your enemies and have them crudely disparaged, have the making of honest billions from the stock exchange as your goal in life, like a hi-tech plot of murders and revenge which renders the good guys dripping with success, then Reich's your man. Parading values like that, I can see why the man's a success in this world. For myself, when it comes to the Fourth Reich, I'll pass. The Third was a nasty piece of work, and I've learned my lesson.

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