The Fear Index
Review: Dr. Alexander Hoffman is a brilliant physicist, who has applied his formidable knowledge to studying macroeconomic data, developing an algorithm he calls VIXAL that predicts trends in the financial markets. "Fear is the strongest emotion in economics," he tells his select group of clients. "One thing we've been able to do, for example, is correlate recent market fluctuations with the frequency rate of fear-related words in the media — terror, alarm, panic, horror, dismay, dread, scare, anthrax, nuclear. Our conclusion is that fear is driving the world as never before." And he's found a way to make money out of it — lots of money — by correlating the VIX, a tradeable volatility index more commonly known as the "fear index", to hundreds of pairs of current data, and trading appropriately.
But someone is out to stop Hoffman … for unknown reasons and by any means necessary … in The Fear Index, a stand-alone thriller by Robert Harris.
The author makes little effort to disguise how the book will end — providing conspicuous clues to the whodunit, if you will, in the first couple of chapters … and if these are missed, he liberally drops not-so-subtle wordplay hints along the way to ensure that readers aren't surprised at how it all turns out — leaving one to simply sit back and enjoy the ride. And it is an exciting, thrilling even, ride though there are no unexpected surprises along way.
Some elements of the plot work far better than others. Financial jargon is kept to a minimum, which allows the narrative to continue unabated, moving forward at a rapid pace. (An overlong backstory late in the book, notwithstanding.) And the helpless fear Hoffman feels against his unknown adversary is well developed, ramping up slowly and steadily, adding an interesting intensity to the storyline. But it is the overall storyline that is this book's weakest point. Of all the characters that potentially could have set Hoffman up, it's more than a little disappointing that it is indeed the foreshadowed one … and possibly worse, one with a motive so implausibly thought out that it is rather inconsequential, if not altogether pointless. Such a missed opportunity; if ever there was a time for a twist in a thriller, this was it. Reading The Fear Index is a perfectly adequate way to spend that lost afternoon, but the book isn't nearly as clever — or ominous — as it purports to be.
Acknowledgment: Random House provided a copy of The Fear Index for this review.
Review Copyright © 2012 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Location(s) referenced in The Fear Index: Geneva, Switzerland
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The Fear Index by Robert Harris
Publication Date: January 2012
List Price: $25.95