Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The business of crime and the crimes of business – Akimitsu Takagi’s The Informer

I’m just a few chapters into this 1965 mystery of murder and industrial espionage, but it took far less than that to see how skillfully Takagi humanizes what could easily be a remote subject. The protagonist, a disgraced former stockbroker named Shigeo Sagawa, has an endearing love for the market, so much so that a reader may almost feel sorry for him now that he can no longer trade shares.

His readiness to jump from self-pity to a willingness to betray friends, sometimes within the space of a single sentence, makes him a character of compellingly human weakness. No doubt this will tighten the emotional screws on the reader once the schemes into which Sagawa lets himself be manipulated slip beyond his control.

And here’s where you come in, readers. By coincidence, perhaps, the only other business-crime story that comes immediately to mind is also Japanese – Akira Kurosawa’s movie The Bad Sleep Well. Since I’m such a newcomer to the world of business as a setting for crime stories, I’ll ask you to help me out. What other crime novels, movies or stories have used the corporate world as a setting? What makes these stories work? And, if they are primarily crime stories rather than thrillers – and don’t ask me to define that term here – what makes them so?

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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9 Comments:

Blogger Linkmeister said...

Stephen Frey has written half-a-dozen or more crime novels based on Wall Street activity.

The two I've read weren't enough to cause me to leap after the rest, though.

Paul Erdman had a long career writing financial thrillers, starting in 1973 with The Billion-Dollar Sure Thing. I learn from Wikipedia that he died earlier this year, but he'd been publishing up until 1997.

November 07, 2007  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

I forgot. Emma Lathen wrote a series of books featuring John Putnam Thatcher, VP of the Sloan Guaranty Trust. Business is the setting, but the crimes are typically motivated by the usual -- greed, love, revenge.

November 07, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

It appears that Frey works in the securities industry. That would obviously give him insight into the types of abuses possible in that world. I wonder if he can take the necessarily skeptical attitude toward his subject.

From the way The Informer has gone so far, it appears that love will play a role.

I have a strong skepticism about novels set in the corporate world because of the uncritical worship of big business in America, the overweening arogance of this country's big corporations, and my own lack of understanding of business. That's why the human touches in Takagi's novel have been a pleasant surprise.

November 07, 2007  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

The Frey book I read was Shadow Account. Here's Publisher's Weekly's review:

"Frey's latest pecuniary adventure follows his formula of extremely complicated plots spun around illegal, high-level financial shenanigans. He's used it with variations before (The Takeover; The Legacy; The Insider; etc.), and despite clunky writing, implausible situations, lucky coincidences and untied threads, it proves perfectly serviceable once again."

I could have written that litany of complaints myself. ;)

November 07, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Who is Frey's protagonist? I hope it's not a plucky, idealistic securities-trading insider who sees what's wrong with his industry and fights valiantly to make it right.

In any case, Takagi was no insider, though this novel is said to be based on true events. And the writing, at least in translation, is anything but clunky.

November 07, 2007  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

No. In the one I read, he fit the basic plotline of Everyman caught up in things he doesn't understand but must figure out in order to survive.

In The Takeover the protagonist was a jerk. Or at least he was a jerk in the first five or six chapters, at which point I didn't feel a need to finish the book and took it back to the library on my next run to pick up books I'd requested that had become available.

November 08, 2007  
Blogger Juri said...

I was going to mention Joseph Finder's PARANOIA, but then I noticed you didn't want any thrillers. It's only mediocre as a book, but interesting nevertheless.

November 08, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

It's not so much that I didn't want thrillers, but more that I figured that since thrillers seemed the more likely genre for a story set in the business world, I'd go in the other direction and ask for crime stories.

And have the shootings in Tuusula shocked the nation? We are so used to thinking of that sort of killing as a North American phenomenon.

November 08, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

That's a novelty -- a jerk as a protagonist. I mean that. It would be interesting to see how the author maintains the reader's, well, sympathy for an unsympathetic character. And I suppose an ordinary guy getting caught up in forces he doesn't understand is a popular motif, the discovery that big corporations do not exist to dispense benevolence.

November 09, 2007  

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