THE SET-UP by Paul Erdman


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Still in fine form, old pro Erdman (Zero Coupon, 1993; the nonfiction Tug of War, 1996; etc.) produces another larky fiscal thriller in which the former head of the US Federal Reserve Board finds himself in trouble and on the run. Charles Black, the FRB's recently retired chairman, is jailed in Switzerland on charges of massive securities fraud. On the basis of seemingly irrefutable evidence, the Swiss authorities accuse him of using inside information to engineer a series of market killings that netted in excess of $400 million. But upright Charlie, it turns out, has been framed at the behest of an immensely wealthy Sardinian named Pietro di Cagliari. Using an attractive young woman as bait, the crafty islander has lured Herr Dr. Samuel Schweizer (the ostensibly incorruptible chairman of Switzerland's National Bank) into his high-flying orbit in aid of shady financial ends. In turn, an infatuated Sammy (who needs big bucks to keep his new mistress in the style to which she's accustomed) recruits Hans Zwiebach, a lawyer of easy virtue whose client list includes Charlie. Trading through the latter's dormant Swiss account on tips from Sammy, the duplicitous attorney amasses a considerable fortune that, although in Charlie's name, does nothing to enrich him. When a credible happenstance threatens an investigation, the three create a paper trail that leads to the hapless American. Concerned about loose ends, Pietro (with murder in mind) arranges for Charlie's escape from jail. Before the Sardinian's minions can do their dirty work, though, Charlie, with plucky wife Sally in tow, makes it to a remote Alaskan fishing village. Once in a comfortable lodge equipped with all the modern conveniences, the resourceful ex--Wall Streeter not only fends off would-be assassins but also unravels the transnational plot against him. Capital entertainment for Erdman's many fans, who will not be at all surprised by the fierce loathing for all things Swiss that suffuses the always absorbing story.

Pub Date: April 21st, 1997
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: St. Martin's