Robert Harris has no need to hedge his bets for the launch of his new financial thriller

Written by Gerald Isaaman on .

Best-selling author Robert Harris  seems set for another stunning success with his new novel, The Fear Index, his first truly contemporary thriller after a string of historical ones taking in Imperial Rome, Hitler, Stalin, code-breaking and Tony Blair.

The Fear Factor, due out from Hutchinson in September, is set in the dizzy world of high finance and competing hedge funds.  Already the film rights have been sold to Fox and Harris is shortly to begin work on the screenplay.

And researching the novel – Harris was a Newsnight and Panorama reporter before becoming a Fleet Street columnist – gave him a totally new insight into the lives of high flying hedge fund managers.

“It was an absolutely eye-opener for me – to go into these hedge funds and find that the people working there were all PhDs,” 54-year-old Harris, who lives in Kintbury, tells The Bookseller.

“I felt I was at the cutting edge and I felt, I may be wrong, that nowhere in fiction – either in films or in novels – has anyone really written about how the financial world is ticking.”

“Of course there have been novels set in hedge funds, but no novel that shows it as it really is – which is so dependent on science, physicists and mathematicians and computer programmers.”

His central character is Geneva-based Dr Alex Hoffman, a former CERN physicist turned spectacularly successful hedge fund manager who develops a secret system of computer algorithms to trade on the world’s financial markets – and attempts made to destroy him.

He describes The Fear Index as a sort of 21st century Frankenstein or “gothic realism”, as he prefers.

“The gothic novel is generally about the hinterland between  human beings and the other, the supernatural,” he explains.  “But our hinterland, in quite a realistic way, is now between being human and being a machine.