Degrees of Dishonesty by Ian Webb AMC, HK$120 Jeweller Franz Joergen is mugged on a business trip to London but is rescued by a good Samaritan, who chases away his assailants and returns his wallet intact. It is only later that Joergen finds out his saviour, George Prentice, is a criminal. The incident is just the beginning of their relationship. In Hong Kong, businessman Andrew Cameron is in financial difficulty, struggling to maintain a lifestyle beyond his means with his marriage on the rocks as a result of his infidelity. His life is about to change dramatically as his wife dies from a stroke and he falls foul of a triad-connected millionaire whom he tries to swindle. Nearby, feuding corrupt lawyers Ryder and Smalley are facing the disciplinary committee of Hong Kong's Law Society for fraudulent use of clients' funds. One of them is to wind up dead. Add to the equation a Swiss bank that is as corrupt on the inside as it seems reputable on the outside and assorted con artists, and the scene is set for a thriller that resonates in the light of the problems afflicting the world economy. A web of intrigue, lies and double dealing ties the characters' fates in a way they can't predict and leads them into situations out of their control. This is a modern morality tale. The Bangkok-based Ian Webb couldn't have published his debut novel at a better time. The grasping US traders who bundled up dodgy mortgages and sold them on to complicit third parties, fuelling the global credit crisis that has cost millions of people their livelihoods, would not be out of place in this book. It is a fictional, although scarily accurate, analysis of the thought processes that underlie capitalism out of control, an ethic based purely on greed, where the concepts of integrity and social responsibility have been banished in favour of deceit and self-interest. It has to be said, however, that if Webb's debut has a five-star theme, it is marred by less than stellar prose. The writing is an issue. A book of this kind calls for a terse style to propel the action; instead we have a convoluted prose that slows it down. That said, this is a promising first novel with a gripping, if complex, plot that cuts to the heart of the world's woes.