The inspiration for The Set-Up is very straightforward. I was working in the City when the Credit Crunch hit. The banks and other financial institutions will deny it now but at the time there was real PANIC. Proper, grown-up, grown-men-crying pandemonium. Everybody was drunk in the car when it suddenly ploughed into Joe Public. And, like all good alcoholics, they promised never to drink again until next time.
What struck me with such force was the sheer drama playing out. The jeopardy and conflict that just screamed from every part of the unfolding events. And – having had a previous incarnation as a writer – it was not long before the light-bulb went on. A dozen plot lines sprang into life as I looked at the financiers around me wiping their proverbial finger-prints off their desk-phones. I’d gone into the City expecting to learn of this other world, a world of ingenious financial instruments, optimised profit structures, entrepreneurial business people, but instead was met with very fallible, very flawed human beings. It was fascinating.
The world of finance has everything: greed, power, money, sex, death. Not that I wanted to write a procedural novel, the actual details of banking makes for a good thriller the same way a cat falling into a mincing machine makes for good ambient music. But as a backdrop, in the Grisham sense, well, what a playground for a writer.
So I was off.
I’d written 1.3 novels before leaving for the City. They worked in their own way but were, ultimately, false-starts. They were damned good practise, but not what I really wanted to say. If you had asked me ten years ago if I was going to write thrillers for a living I’d have laughed. Mainly because I wrote comedy at the time and I laughed a lot anyway. But the older I’ve got the more I’ve fallen in love with the fast-paced thriller/crime genres. There’s a time for a deeply thoughtful novel, but there’s a time for a white-knuckle read. (Well, more time where I’m concerned.)
With The Set-Up I knew I wanted the action set in a post-Madoff New York. And I knew I wanted the perspective of an outsider. Somebody who had been ripped-off by the system. But – and this surprised even me – I wanted that as the backdrop only. I wanted this guy to be set-up. I wanted him to appear so guilty a Presidential pardon wouldn’t have cut it. Then I wanted him to fight back.
So that’s what I wrote. Maybe people will enjoy it. And maybe they’ll feel like they’ve been set-up too.
The Set-up by Felix Riley is published by Michael Joseph