Trading Down Review: Financially Sound But Fictionally Flawed

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In my day job I write corporate copy for a number of publications, including many specialist financial magazines, therefore I was greatly very excited to read ex-CIO of RBS Stephen Norman’s debut novel Trading Down, which explores the threat of cyber-crime on the modern world from the perspective of an insider at a major financial institution.

It is clear from the very first sentence that Norton has a wide understanding of financial practices, strong technical know-how and all the jargon to go along with it. Drawing on 20 years’ experience at the forefront of investment banking IT, Norman delivers a strong debut that offers a great insight into the financial world.

The novel follows Chris Peters, who works in IT at a major investment bank. As Chris climbs through the ranks he finds himself in the midst of a massive international crime of epic proportions. His investigations lead him to Yemen, and the parallel plot of a family as they race against time to save their captive father from execution. Every aspect of the novel comes together as Chris wrangles with the issue of unmasking a criminal could be much closer to home than he would like.

Despite introducing many incredibly complicated technical concepts into the novel, Norman is skilful and manages to avoid the issue of ‘information dumping’, and as such Trading Down is a great way to learn really interesting information about the financial IT space in a fun and enjoyable way.

Whilst factually this is a well-written dramatization, it lacks the depth to be a full novel. Many of the characters are one dimensional, and frankly, there are too many of them. The main criticism I have of this otherwise gripping and fascinating novel is that it is simply too long. There is a good 200 pages worth of material that could have been removed without the reader even noticing, and this would drastically cut down the length of the book and made it a far more pleasurable reading experience.

Fundamentally, Trading Down would have benefited from being a fictionalised account of a real event, rather than a novel in itself. Norman’s skill is in his vast knowledge of the global financial markets and the role IT plays in them, not in storytelling. I would be more than happy to read more of his writing, providing he hones his narrative and tidies up his plot in any future novels. Overall an interesting if tough read, this book is ideal for anyone looking for a real thought-provoker that they can get their teeth into.

Trading Down by Stephen Norman is published by Endeavour Press on 9th November.

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