Two plots—one financial, the other terrorist—are being hatched, but there’s much more going on in this absorbing big-canvas view of contemporary London from Faulks (Engleby, 2007, etc.).
John Veals, a middle-aged hedge fund manager and the coldest of cold fish, is planning the collapse of a major British bank. His goal? To pump even more billions of dollars into his fund. Hassan al-Rashid, a young Muslim raised in Scotland, belongs to a jihadist cell. By chance, their schemes will climax simultaneously in December 2007. Faulks uses the tried-and-true countdown device as a backbeat. In the foreground is lucid if rather too lengthy exposition. To explain Veals’s strategy, Faulks leads us through the labyrinth of puts, calls, trades and more, while for Hassan he limns a credible step-by-step recruitment process. As a counterweight to the blandishments of the Koran, Faulks offers the reader the rational humanism of Gabriel Northwood, an impoverished barrister; the strident voice of the Koran reminds Gabriel uncomfortably of the voices plaguing his schizophrenic brother Adam. Gabriel’s somber hospital visits are a corrective to a shockingly cruel, hugely lucrative reality show that pillories the participants, all crazies. (Veals’s teenage son, a fan of the show, will join Adam after a drug-induced psychotic episode.) The light in Gabriel’s sad life is a new client, Jenni Fortune, the mixed-race driver of a subway train and devotee of video games. Unlike digital seductions (another Faulks theme), the love that grows between Gabriel and Jenni is piercingly real. For light relief, there’s Hassan’s wealthy businessman father, panicked before an audience with the Queen, soliciting advice on Great Books from an embittered reviewer, a veteran of the literary racket. Remarkably, Faulks retains control of his material as he shows us a world in which money rules, tunnel vision destroys and love remains the touchstone and redeemer.
With its inexhaustible curiosity about the way the world works, this funny, exciting work is another milestone in a distinguished career.