Book Review: The Chinese Banker

Gas is $10 per gallon. Protestors fill the streets. Riots erupt at grocery stores. This isn’t just a nightmare – it’s a new kind of warfare.

In his debut novel The Chinese Banker, Dustin Hill imagines what would happen if the U.S. economy went entirely off the rails. It ain’t pretty. I’m probably not politically or economically savvy enough to offer an in-depth analysis of the story, but I can say that it felt believable. Disturbingly believable.

Our hero is a columnist for The New York Examiner, Roger Cusak, who uncovers a foreign plot to debauch U.S. currency and throw the economy into a tailspin. Conspiracy theories and political thriller mashups aren’t anything new, but what sets Hill apart from many of his fellows is that he manages to keep his feet on the ground. The events described in The Chinese Banker may be fictional, but they could (conceivably) happen. You won’t find any shootouts, high-speed chases, or superhuman exploits – the conflict here is one of ideas.

And cash. Lots of cash.

Hill’s writing isn’t flawless, but it’s good, especially in the dialogue between characters. Many chapters take the form of news articles or opinion pieces – Hill himself is a journalist, which certainly doesn’t hurt – and for the most part, I enjoyed this approach. The problem is that it dominates the entire novel. Cusak’s journalistic “voice” is omnipresent, even when he’s telling us about something as mundane as having a drink at a bar. And that starts to get old after awhile.

This issue aside, the story is engaging and so are the characters (most of them, anyway). Things are surprisingly tame as far as objectionable content goes – there’s some language and brief sexual material, and that’s pretty much it. If you’re looking for a solid political thriller with some interesting and provocative ideas, I’d recommend you give this one a look.

Dodging the Discussion

“We are fond of talking about ‘liberty’; but the way we end up actually talking of it is an attempt to avoid discussing what is ‘good.’ We are fond of talking about ‘progress’; that is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. We are fond of talking about ‘education’; that is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good.

The modern man says, ‘Let us leave all these arbitrary standards and embrace unadulterated liberty.’ This is, logically rendered, ‘Let us not decide what is good, but let it be considered good not to decide it.’

He says, ‘Away with your old moral standard; I am for progress.’ This, logically stated, means, ‘Let us not settle what is good; but let us settle whether we are getting more of it.’

He says, ‘Neither in religion nor morality, my friend, lie the hopes of the race, but in education.’ This, clearly expressed, means, ‘We cannot decide what is good, but let us give it to our children.”

– G.K. Chesterton, Heretics