Disgruntled academic Nick Elliott has reluctantly taken work with city brokers Dekker Ward. Strange things start happening to Dekker's employees, including Nick's colleague, Isabel, which is when Nick decides to take on a fixer who is unaccustomed to people standing in his way.
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Why I wrote this book
When I worked in the city, I always wanted to trade the emerging markets, that is the bonds off developing countries like Mexico, Brazil or Russia. They wouldn't let me. The markets were too risky, they said. But they couldn't stop me writing about them, and when I was searching for a topic for a third novel, emerging markets seemed a natural choice.
They didn't disappoint me. The markets are full of colourful characters, enormous egos, and great stories.
The research was interesting. I decided to focus on Brazil. I knew little about the country, but had always been fascinated by it. It is a complex place, full of opposites. The people are relaxed, happy-go-lucky, friendly. Yet they can aslo be violent, depraved and callous. The financial system seems like a joyful shambles, but the Brazilian investment bankers I met are some of the most driven and intelligent I have come across. And yes, I did have to spend some time lying on a beach in Rio watching the women go by in order to complete my research properly.
Nick, the hero of the book, is an academic. He was inspired by my friends outside the City who see all the wealth made by their contemporaries, and wonder whether they couldn't do as well themselves. Perhaps they can. But intelligence isn't the problem, ruthlessness, aggression, or more euphemistically, "hunger" is. There are four characters in my book who all have different reasons for wanting to work in the City. They are all faces with the same question: "How far will they go?" It is their answers to this question which drives the plot.
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I was sweating like a pig as I trudged up the dusty path under the mid-afternoon sun. I panted hard, each breath pulling in the foul smell of human waste, sweetened occasionally by the aroma of stale food or alcohol. In England I would be described as tall, dark and thin. Here, clambering up this hill of dirt and slime, I felt like a big, white, fat, rich man.
We had left LuLs's car and driver well behind to begin the ascent of the hill. Most of the favelas are on hills, land too steep to build real houses. Makeshift dwellings crowded together on either side of the path. They were constructed from all kinds of different materials, although brick and plywood seemed to predominate. Small holes in the walls served for windows, and occasionally I heard a mysterious rustle of movement from the darkness within. Washing hanging from window ledges added splashes of colour to the red-brick or grey-plastered walls. There were children everywhere, most of the boys wearing nothing but shorts. One group was playing with a hoop; another was kicking a football, a difficult business on this slope. A two-year-old staggered in front of us crying, his hair a shock of yellow. A black woman trotted after him and picked him up.
We passed a small row of stalls selling vegetables and fruit. Behind one of them, a nut-brown man sported a yellow T-shirt proclaiming in English, Who dies with the most toys wins. Where the hell did he get that, I wondered. A group of older kids eyed us with cold, proud eyes as we climbed past. They were passing round a bag: each one breathed deeply from it with an air of solemn concentration.
'Are you sure it's not dangerous here?' I asked.
'No,' said Isabel, puffing a few steps ahead.
'So, it is dangerous?'
It hadn't rained for a couple of days, but every now and then the ground underfoot changed from dust to mud. An open sewer ran along the side of the path. I tried not to think what I was stepping in.
Eventually we came to a small plateau, which supported a tiny white makeshift church, and a larger rectangular structure, decorated with brightly coloured murals. I turned and paused for breath. Beneath me was one of the most spectacular views I had ever seen. The white buildings of the city snaked between green-clad hills down to the sea glistening in the distance. I looked for the statue of Christ, visible from almost anywhere in Rio, but it was lost in a cloud that clung to the mountains behind.
'You would think someone would pay a lot for this location,' I said.
'Believe me, you pay to live here. And with more than just cash.'
We approached the entrance of the building, stepping carefully through a small but well-kept garden. The splashes of red, blue, yellow and white were a welcome relief from the reddish-brown dirt.
The door opened, and a woman rushed out, hogging Isabel. There was a family resemblance, although Cordelia was heavier, older and tougher. Her face was lined, marks of both compassion and strength.
We shook hands.
'Cordelia, this is a colleague of mine, Nick Elliot,' Isabel said in English. 'I've brought him along to show him what you do here. You don't mind, do you?'
'Not at all,' said Cordelia, with a warm smile. 'The more people who see, the better. So how much has Isabel told you?' Her English was slow and precise, her accent much more pronounced than her sister's.
'Not much. Something about running a shelter for street children?'
'That's right. It's a place for them to come to get a proper meal, to talk to someone, to feel that they belong somewhere.'
'Do they stay the night?'
'We only have room for a few. Those children who are genuinely afraid for their lives.'
'Who are they afraid of?'
'The police, mostly. Or the death squads. Groups of men who promise the shopkeepers they will keep the children off the streets. They beat them up or kill them.' Cordelia said this without emotion.
'Why? What have they done?'
'All kinds of things. Stealing, mostly. Although it doesn't even have to be that. A nine-year-old boy called PatrLcio used to come here. Last month he was killed, strangled. His body was found on the beach with a note: "I killed you because you didn't go to school and had no future."'
I recoiled. I looked closely at Cordelia's face. I could hardly believe what she was saying. In a way I didn't want to believe her. I looked for signs of exaggeration. But her face was blank. She was stating fact.
'How do they get away with it? Don't the police do anything?'
'It's the police who do most of the killing. Either in uniform or out of it.'
'But what about ordinary people? How do they put up with it?'
'They ignore it. They pretend it doesn't happen. Or they praise the police for clearing up the streets.'
I grimaced. 'I can't believe it.'
She shrugged. 'Do you want to see some of the children?'
She led us into the building. It was dark, cool and clean, after the chaotic dust and heat of the favela. We walked along a long corridor, dodging children of all shapes and sizes. Paintings in bright unsteady colours covered the walls. We entered a kind of classroom where a number of children were playing, talking, or just sitting silently, staring.
'Don't these children have parents?' I asked.
'Many don't know their fathers. They might have a dozen brothers and sisters who all live together in one of those shacks down there, in one dark room. They're beaten and abused by stepfathers. Often the mothers spend their days in a drunken stupor. For these kids life on the street is better. They go down into the city during the day to work or beg or steal, and in the evening they stay down there if they can, or come up here.'
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Book Description Book Condition: good. 136 Gramm. Bookseller Inventory # M0014086752X-G