Meltdown by Martin Baker Macmillan, HK$165 If the world's economic system has gone down the plughole by the time you read this, then you will be able to recognise Martin Baker by the smile on his face because global financial meltdown is predicted in this thriller. It also asks us to believe this catastrophe has been engineered by an evil genius - or perhaps a Nietzschean superhero; this is not entirely clear - working as a trader in an investment bank. The story begins with a Murdoch-like media baron, William Barton, who persuades our hero, an Oxford don, to lay aside his research and go to work in Ropner's investment bank in Paris. There, his real job will be to keep an eye on Barton's enemy, the legendary propriety trader Khan. Khan is charismatic and he soon casts a bit of a spell on the man who has been sent to spy on him, whose name - for those of you who can take a hint - is Samuel Spendlove. Our protagonist also finds it pretty easy to adapt to the high-risk, high-rolling and high-society life of the flyboys of the financial world. He learns the skills of the trading floor (and presumably French) with preternatural speed and soon he's hobnobbing with cabinet ministers, fooling around with his glamorous colleague Kaz Day and talking into three telephones at once. In next to no time, however, Day goes missing and Spendlove becomes a suspect not only in her murder but also in the financial skullduggery that threatens to bring global markets crashing down. Khan has stitched him up, Barton cuts him loose and the French police want him to assist with their inquiries. Luckily for him, Day's former lesbian lover Lauren de la Geneste is convinced he's innocent. Even more luckily, she's not really all that lesbian. Somehow, they devise a scheme to clear his name and save the world for capitalism. Well, first the good news. Baker moves the plot along at a zippy pace and it's an exciting story. He's pretty good at dialogue too. A financial journalist by profession, he presumably knows what he is talking about when it comes to the legal and trading-floor environment in which the story unfolds. The wheeler-dealing at the centre of the plot seems plausible enough. On the other hand, if Baker's portrayal of the workings of an investment bank is at all accurate, we would be well advised to encash our savings immediately and put them on a race horse. The problem comes, as it often does with a thriller, when the ingenious twist in the plot has been twisted. In this case, it's the deal that triggers the meltdown. What happens next? Gentle reader, if you have read any other thriller or been to the movies in the past 15 years or so, you know the answer. Unjustly accused, Spendlove goes on the run. He is pursued by the villain's henchmen and the police so he obtains a fake passport and adopts a disguise. There are chases involving various means of transport and narrow escapes. Our hero has an unexpected talent for physical violence. He is accompanied by a beautiful woman who believes in him. They stop every 25 pages or so for some quite entertaining sex. What has been left far behind in all this frenzy of activity is motivation. Barton, Khan, Spendlove, Day, de la Geneste - why on Earth are they doing any of this? In what possible sense are they interesting human beings? Why should we care about any of them? At the end of the story, this is one mystery that remains unsolved.