You Win Some, You Lose Some
(A Book Review of Paper Money by Ken Follett)
What links the lives of a ruthless gangster, a sneaky businessman, an adulterous minister, and a young journalist — each a stranger to another — together?
Formerly published under the pseudonym Zachary Stone, Paper Money, one of Ken Follett’s early caper reissued to quench the curiosity of hard-core fans interested about his earlier works prior his rise to fame, tells an intriguing plot concerning seemingly unrelated incidents about the conferring of an oil drilling license, a blackmailed politician, and a bank car heist. Yet what appears to be an ordinary day begins to turn odd as suspicious circumstances tie the events at once when a London evening news reporter fills and fits the pieces of a puzzle: a conspiracy that will rock Threadneedle Street.
In the reprinted book’s Introduction, Follett said outright that this is “one of his best unsuccessful books” and reading it quite makes it plain at first sight. The novel lacks a central or primary character and — as was Follett’s wont during this time when he’s just learning the ropes of writing — they’re sketchy at best. I think one of the trump cards of this “interesting little thriller” is its plot and structure (one of the cleverest the author has devised as he professed). Indeed, the chapter designed in an hour to hour fashion calls for brisk action but leaves the reader in a tumble of confusion as the character’s lives begin to overlap, coupled by the fact that so much is happening right under the reader’s nose, lost in the story’s comings and goings, that one tends to easily forget what transpired during the previous sections.
Paper Money’s premise, I admit, is a tad promising only if the author could’ve had the time to elaborate it plot and character-wise. Really, it’s not as bad as it sounds. As someone who has his share of reading Follett’s books, I can see here his budding ability to build and mount suspense in particular scenes is quite delighting. For what it’s worth those edge-of-your-seat moments are pretty much thrilling — though it only lasts quick as blink.
I, along with others, agree that the ending is a little anti-climactic; nonetheless, for me it’s a good poetic justice of sorts for the book’s villains who smugly thought victory is close at hand when in the end it caught them unawares and cost them dearly.
Hold in the same regard with his other early caper, The Modigliani Scandal, Paper Money is still one nice read despite it being dated, will grab your interest if only for a foothold, and gives a fleeting glimpse of London during the 70s as well as the writing of a young Ken Follett.