Finn Keane is a novice investment banker who helps an aging Chairman try to buy his company back, while the ruthless Wall Street sharks who drove it into bankruptcy do all they can to stop them so the Wall Streeters can carve it up for themselves.
Excerpts from Trojan Horse, Bull Street and Vaccine Nation, David Lender's other thrillers, follow the text of The Gravy Train.
A Q&A With David Lender
Question: The Gravy Train is a story of a novice investment banker, Finn Keane, who tries to help an elderly former company chairman buy back his now bankrupt company. The same group of Wall Street insiders who engineered the deals that ultimately bankrupted the company work to block Finn’s efforts; they want to make more money from selling the company in pieces. For many this may sound reminiscent of the events surrounding and leading up to the financial crisis of 2008. How much of this book is inspired by this time?
David Lender: The Gravy Train wasn’t inspired by the financial crisis, but the personalities that created it are accurately portrayed. So in that respect it paints a picture of the some of the root causes of the financial crisis—obsessive financiers who are blind to the broader implications of their actions, in many cases driven purely by self-interest, and sometimes willing to harm others to achieve their goals. I think that allows the reader to take away a powerful understanding—at a human level instead of a macroeconomic one—of what could cause such a financial train wreck.
Q: The Gravy Train moves from Wall Street to the Delaware Bankruptcy Court with stops in-between. A lot of the subject matter is esoteric and highly nuanced. Can you tell us why you chose the setting you chose and how you made it so accessible to people not familiar with this world?
DL: I wanted to realistically convey the ambiance of Wall Street and the bankruptcy process, the world inhabited by the characters, in a way that resonated with readers. That meant keeping the story from being about the financial machinations, and making it about the characters’ actions and emotions. It was a delicate balance: I needed the guts of the deals business to make the story real, but I had to let the characters drive the book.
Q: I have read that you worked for 25 years on Wall Street, what made you decide to start writing?
DL: I always wanted to be a novelist. I made up my mind to do it about 15 years ago when my investment banking career was in full swing. I just muscled it into my schedule, getting up at 5 a.m., writing for an hour and then going to my day job, like most aspiring writers. I outlined or edited scenes on planes, in cabs or in hotel rooms. I write because I love it, but also because I got to the point where I could no longer ignore the compulsion to do so.
Q: You must draw a lot of inspiration from your time on Wall Street. Where else do you find inspiration?
DL: Sometimes it’s someone in my life. Dani North, the protagonist of Vaccine Nation, was inspired by my fiancé, Manette, and her work as a documentary filmmaker. Elmore Leonard is one of my favorite authors, and reading his stuff frequently gives me ideas. Sometimes it’s just throwing ideas around with friends.
Q: What kind of books do you read, and what authors have influenced you?
DL: Thrillers. What else? Thriller writers who have influenced me are Elmore Leonard, Graham Greene, Frederick Forsyth, John LeCarre, John Grisham (although I don’t think he’s ever gotten close to The Firm again), Robert Ludlum, Ken Follett, and Thomas Harris.
Q: What books do you read over and over again?
DL: I think F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is the great American novel. I read it every year or so. Elmore Leonard is the contemporary author I most admire. Out of Sight is his best, with Get Shorty a close second. Nobody does dialog or backstory like him. I’ll also never stop returning to Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, Forsythe’s The Day of the Jackal (it may be the best thriller ever written), Le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley’s People, and Graham Green’s Our Man in Havana.