Review: FREE TO TRADE by Michael Ridpath

First published by William Heinemann, 1995

This was Michael Ridpath’s first novel, and I still rate it very highly. 

Recently I was sent a copy of Ridpath’s THE DIPLOMAT’S WIFE, and it gripped me as Ridpath’s books always do. I read it, and will supply a review shortly, but before I do that, I was grabbed only recently by FREE TO TRADE. Why? Because during the elections two weeks ago, I spent a very quiet day waiting for some eighty-odd electors to come and vote for their local Police and Crime Commissioners. It made for a very slow fifteen hours. However, the polling station was held in a delightful village hall, and in that hall was a library, which held a number of authors’ books, free to borrow. Naturally, as an author who depends on people buying books from bookshops, I don’t like such ideas generally, but it was useful to glance over the eight shelves and see what people were reading – or perhaps what they weren’t!

On one shelf was Free to Trade, and I picked it up and began to read. And next day, when I got home, I carried on reading, and the day after. It didn’t take long to devour this one. It was as good as when I read it originally some fifteen years ago. 

What is it about?

Michael Ridpath spent his early career as a bond trader in a bank in the City of London, and his early works were heavily influenced by those years. 

In this, Paul Murray is learning the craft. He works for De Jong’s, a small bank, and his manager, Hamilton McKenzie, a sharp, analytical man who never takes risks but only educated and informed investments based on careful analysis. He is the guy Murray wants to become. 

There are not many people in the bank. He works with Rob, who spends his time falling head-over-heels in love with whichever woman appeals to him at that moment; there is Karen, a secretary/gofer; and the compliance officer, Debbie, who calms tensions with her humour and flirting. All in all, Murray is content. He is learning fast how to become a successful trader, and McKenzie seems very pleased with him. His life is full and he is ambitious. 

All this is about to go belly-up, of course. 

We begin the story as things are starting to go wrong:

“I had lost half a million dollars in slightly less than half an hour and the coffee machine didn’t work. This was turning into a bad day. Half a million dollars is a lot of money. And I needed a cup of coffee badly.”

This is the story of how things can go badly wrong. It starts with a few trades and we see Murray’s perspective on them, his reading of the deals proposed, his view of the salesmen trying to persuade him to buy, the lies, the deviousness, the success of charlatans and those with extremely dodgy backgrounds … 

One such case is a new casino being built in Las Vegas. There is something whiffy about this one, and about the man who is selling bonds based on it. It leaves Murray wary, and he begins to research some other deals with Debbie. But then Debbie dies, falling into the Thames and drowning. Except Murray is convinced she must have been murdered. 

And that is when the story takes off as a mystery.

It’s a brilliant read – none the worse for the intervening years – and I doubt much has changed in the bond-trading business. There are as many charlatans, cheats and scoundrels as Ridpath depicts here. As a computer salesman, I can recognise the same characters, the same desperate urges to sell, the same ambitions, the same foolishness. This was very much a book of the 1990s, and perhaps the 1980s. It is definitely a brilliant thriller. 

Yes, of course it’s HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, and you should go and get a copy now. But a Kindle or alternative new copy. Don’t buy or take a second hand version. 

So, have I taken that book back to the library? No. Instead, I’ve given it to my daughter’s young man, who tends to enjoy good thrillers, in the hope that this may become another pleasure for him. He likes my books, after all, so he may well like another Michael’s work. And when he’s done, I’ll take it back to the library to tempt other people.

After all, I have my original copy on my shelves now. And I paid full whack for that.

Get your copy now, and enjoy!

One Response to “Review: FREE TO TRADE by Michael Ridpath”
  1. Jack Eason says:

    Reblogged this on Have We Had Help? and commented:


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