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How Andrew Gross turns real-life financial fears into a fast-paced fictional thriller

Guest Blogger

In his latest thriller, “Reckless,”Andrew Gross sends readers hurtling through their worst nightmares of a global financial crisis. The tale combines murder, high finance and the mystery of love to portray the possibility of an international meltdown. How does a high-octane writer like Gross weave real-world shenanigans into a fictional page-turner? Here he explains.

By Andrew Gross

In March 2008, I was on a plane when a friend, who happened to be seated behind me, leaned forward and whispered in my ear: “Bear, Stearns just collapsed.”

For me, these words, coupled with the events six months later that culminated in the collapse of Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers and AIG, almost had the impact of watching the Trade Towers come down or the toppling of the Berlin Wall. History playing out in front of our eyes. Iconic institutions swept away. The impossible happening.

A year later, when I went to cobble together the plot for my latest thriller, “Reckless,” I linked these dramatic headlines with a less conspicuous one: a mid level trader for Societe Generale in France who almost single-handedly toppled the bank in 2008 by losing $7 billion, hugely exceeding his trading limits.

Now, I don’t write financial thrillers any more than I write political ones, though my last book, “Don’t Look Twice,” dealt with a scandal of cronyism and corruption that led to the Iraq War. What I look for in these headlines is conspiracy, a widening set of acts and players with something sinister at stake, and what I want to tap into is the fear and uncertainty ordinary people face when they become caught up in events way beyond their control and put squarely into the crosshairs of cover up and murder.

Now, of course, these are only events -- and real events don’t necessarily make good plots or the best fiction. That takes a series of “what ifs,” and the biggest “what if in “Reckless” is the scenario Treasury investigator Naomi Blum proposes to her boss: “What if there are people on an organized basis, who want to do this country harm, not by flying a plane through our tallest buildings, but by driving one figuratively through our most important national asset?”

Our economy.

Now financial terrorism mirroring real events is one thing in a novel, but compelling characters are what make it seem real. And “Reckless” also begins with a haunting personal nightmare taken from another real life episode: the heartbreaking murder of a mother and her teenage daughter in rural Greenwich, echoing a similar horrifying home break-in that actually took place in Cheshire, Conn. a year before.

I, myself, was haunted by this senseless murder, as anyone or any parent who is lulled to believe we are protected by our successes and good fortune in life -- that they create real barriers that can hold tragedy out.

So what starts with a heartbreaking crime leads to a desperate, rogue trader and a toppled bank; to a wealthy Greenwich divorcee and her mysterious new love, who she fears is not who he appears to be. To Saudi money men in London and Serbian atrocities in the Bosnian War. Ultimately rising to a conspiracy that is all to real-- that, I hope, lends a new meaning to the term, “too big to fail.”

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By Steven E. Levingston  |  April 20, 2010; 5:30 AM ET
Categories:  Guest Blogger  | Tags: American International Group, Andrew Gross Reckless, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, financial crisis  
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