Pulse-pounding, unputdownable thrillers, Part Two: The Fear Index by Robert Harris

March 2, 2012 at 1:05 pm (Book review, books)

[Click here for Part One.]

Dr. Alex Hoffmann is the brains behind Hoffmann Investment Technologies, a fabulously successful hedge fund based in Geneva, Switzerland. Hoffmann, an American, had previously worked as a physicist at the Large Hadron Collider. Various issues in his personal and professional life caused him to switch to the field of high finance.

Here’s what a typical day is like on the trading floor of Hoffmann Investment Technologies:

The Japanese stock market would close in fifteen minutes, the European exchanges would open at nine, and already four dozen quantitative analysts–quants, in the dismissive jargon of the trade–were hard at work. None talked above a whisper. Most stared silently at  their six-screen arrays. Giant plasma televisions with muted sound carried CNBC and Bloomberg, while beneath the TVs a glowing red line of digital clocks noiselessly recorded time’s relentless passage in Tokyo, Beijing, Moscow, Geneva, London and New York. This  was the sound that money made in the second decade of the twenty-first century.  The occasional soft clatter on a keyboard was the only indication that humans were present at all.

And here is the company’s credo:


They really mean that part about the paper. At one point, Alex’s business partner Hugo Quarry must give an inspector special permission to use an ink pen and a notebook: “‘We’re not allowed to use carbon-based data-retrieval systems on the premises–that’s notebooks and newspapers to you and me.” This sounds almost comical, but there is nothing comical about the situation that has brought Inspector Jean-Philippe Leclerc of the Geneva Police Department  to the headquarters of Hoffmann Investment Technologies.The most rigorous security system imaginable has been breached. And not just on one, but on several fronts. And it’s not just Alex’s company that’s at risk: financial institutions all over the world are facing a possible meltdown.

I will, alas, trip all over myself if I try to explain any of this in more detail. I do encourage you, though, not to be put off by the financial and technological complexities that are part and parcel of this narrative. There is still the human element, and that element is most intriguing. I admit that my first impression of Alex Hoffmann was not a favorable one. I sensed that I was in the presence of one of those individuals whose belief in his or her own rightness and invincibility was boundless.

But as events unfolded, my regard for this character grew. Alex needs all the determination, courage, and resourcefulness he can muster to unmask an exceptionally cunning foe, one who has set out to destroy everything he has built through a lifetime of  Herculean effort. And Alex is simply not about to let that happen.

  Robert Harris is an author I greatly admire. Not only are his contemporary thrillers, like The Ghost, top notch, but his historical novels make for rich and engrossing reading. Pompeii brings that famous catastrophe to vivid life. And I have very much enjoyed Imperium and Conspirata, the first two novels in a projected trilogy dealing with the life of Cicero.



(I also recommend the audiobook version of these last two titles, read by Simon Jones.)

The Fear Index is slated to become a film, with the author currently working on the screenplay. And if you haven’t seen the 2010 film of The Ghost, I highly recommend that, too. (The film version was retitled The Ghost Writer.)


  1. Offshore Company said,

    Hey there.
    Would you mind sharing which blog platform you’re using? I’m going to start my
    own blog in the near future but I’m having a hard time deciding between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal. The reason I ask is because your layout seems different then most blogs and I’m looking for something unique.

    P.S. My apologies for getting off-topic but I had to ask!

    • Roberta Rood said,

      Hi, Muriel,

      I blog with WordPress. I think they’d like me to move to a more advanced platform, but I don’t have room in my life to learn more technical things. Writing is my main focus, and takes a tremendous amount of time, as I’m slow, constantly revising, etc. etc.

      Sorry not to be more helpful.

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