Billionaire by Peter James – Audible Book Review by Pat V.
Middle Eastern politics and the commodities market are at the heart of Billionaire, an early novel by Peter James, long out of print, that has recently been recorded by Leighton Pugh for Audible. James has written 28 novels, and is probably best known for his international best-selling crime thriller series featuring Brighton-based Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, which have sold 16 million copies worldwide and most of which have also been recorded by Audible. He has also written a number of stand alone novels of which this is one.
Billionaire follows the pattern of most of James’ novels, with alternating chapters that seem to have nothing in common until the climax where a link is established and all is clarified. Here, the first chapter starts with a car chase and accident on a British motorway followed by a chapter where four Israeli sailors are found dead on a boat carrying a cargo of nuclear sea mines near the Straits of Hormuz in the Red Sea. What follows is a multi-layered tale of double dealing and international intrigue with sinister syndicates, corrupt stockbrokers and perverted politicians who together aim to create a global crisis for financial gain.
James’ canvas is very much like the larger-than-life kind of world of Ian Fleming’s stories but the protagonist caught in the middle, Alex Rocq, is no James Bond. He may share Bond’s love of women and fast cars but the similarities end there. He is an ambitious, young stockbroker, envious of his rich clients, who decides to play the commodities market for himself. He soon realises that he is out of his depth and cannot believe his luck when he is offered the chance to write off his debts in exchange for special services and keeping silent about what he observes. But things are not as straightforward as they seem and Rocq finds himself in a situation he does not understand and cannot control; his clients are being killed one by one and he realises that he may be next on the list.
While Billionaire is not as polished as some of the Roy Grace series or as chilling as “Perfect People” James’ cautionary tale of genetic engineering (an excellent reading by Clare Corbett is available from Audible) it keeps the listener guessing to the very end. When James wrote the book in 1985 the situation in the Middle East was very different from today’s and consequently the political machinations in Billionaire can seem improbable and dated. However when he tells us in detail about the workings of the commodity market and shows how the greed of a few individuals and political groups can unbalance the whole world structure, we realise that little has changed over the last 30 years.
Leighton Pugh has recorded nearly 40 books for Audible and listening to this book it is easy to understand why. He is a consummate reader and always holds the listener’s attention. Here he deals with a large cast of characters here but can differentiates clearly between them and we are never confused as to who is speaking. He has the added difficulty in this story of juggling a number of different accents, cultivated British for Alex Rocq, French, Italian and Arabic for some of his clients and a guttural Israeli for General Ephraim, the Mossad Chief of Staff.
The recording is available from audible.co.uk and lasts 9h and 18 mins.