Magazine article The Spectator

The Gold Crash

Magazine article The Spectator

The Gold Crash

Article excerpt

The gold crash

THE CRYPTOGRAPHER

by Tobias Hill. Faber, L12, pp. 264, ISBN 0571218369.

Tobias Hill's last novel, The Love of Stones, was a compelling tale about an extraordinary jewel and a girl's quest to possess it. There were several marvellous set-pieces: in Istanbul, Diyarbakir, Baghdad and London in the 1830s, and more. If some people complained that there was no attempt to characterise the girl, it could be argued in Hill's defence that all extraneous information was irrelevant to his portrait of obsessive Katherine Sterne. His crisp, urgent prose was a delight to read; the yarn was very entertaining.

The Cryptographer is set about 15 years in the future. Hard currency has become obsolete in favour of 'soft money', which is generated through an unbreakable code and exchanged through computer networks. It is the brainchild of John Law, a maverick, reclusive cryptographer who has earned vast wealth from his invention. The novel's main character, however, is Anna Moore, an inspector for the Inland Revenue, who has been sent to investigate him following the discovery of an irregularity. He admits to it readily and pays back L12 million, an amount that he earns in two days. But the knowledge that he has a safe deposit box containing gold bullion in the name of his son makes Anna suspicious. Why would he need this, if his code is really unbreakable? So far so good: 'soft money' is a wonderful, clean idea, and there are some splendid images. For example Law's home, 'Erith Reach', is made from an unnamed suburb of East London which he has bought in its entirety by compensating all of its previous 12,000 freeholders six times the value of their land. …

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