A SIGNET BOOK
THIS BOOK WAS WRITTEN in 1976, immediately before Eye of the Needle,
and I think it is the best of my unsuccessful books. It was published
under the pseudonym Zachary Stone, as was The Modigliani Scandal,
because the books are similar: they lack a central character, but
feature several groups of characters whose stories are linked and share
a common climax.
In Paper Money the links are less fortuitous, for the book is supposed
to show how crime, high finance, and journalism are corruptly
interconnected. The ending is rather somber by comparison with The
Modigliani Scandal–in fact it is almost a tragedy. However, it is the
differences and similarities between Paper Money and Eye of the Needle
that are most instructive. (Readers who want the cake, not the recipe,
should skip this and go straight to Chapter One.) The plot of Paper
Money is the cleverest I have ever devised, and the small sales of the
book convinced me that clever plots satisfy authors more than readers.
The plot of Eye of the Needle is of course very simple–in fact it can
be written down in three paragraphs, as indeed I did write it when I
first thought of it. Eye of the Needle has only three or four main
characters whereas Paper Money has a dozen or so. Yet with its complex
plot and large cast, Paper Money is only half the length of Eye of the
Needle. As a writer I have always had to struggle against a tendency
to underwrite, and in Paper Money you see me struggling in vain.
Consequently the many characters are painted in brisk, bold brush
strokes and the book lacks the feeling of detailed personal involvement
with the private lives of the characters that readers demand of a best
One of the strengths of the book is its form. The action takes place
during a single day in the life of a London evening newspaper (I worked
for such a newspaper in 1973 and 1974) and each chapter Chronicles one
hour of that day in three or four scenes describing both what happens
at the news desk and what happens in the stories the paper is covering
(or missing). Eye of the Needle has an even more rigid structure,
although nobody to my knowledge has ever noticed it: there are six
parts, each with six chapters (except for the last part, which has
seven), the first chapter in each part dealing with the spy, the second
with the spy catchers, and so on until the sixth, which always tells of
the international military consequences of what has gone before.
Readers do not notice such things–and why should they?–but still I
suspect that regularity, and even symmetry, contribute to what they
perceive as a well-told story. The only feature Paper Money shares
with Eye of the Needle is a wealth of good minor characters tarts,
thieves, half-witted children, working-class wives, and lonely old men.
In subsequent books I have not done this, for it only diverts from the
main characters and their story; yet I often wonder whether I am being
too clever. Today I am not as sure as I was in 1976 of the links
between crime, high finance, and journalism; but I think this book is
true to life in another way. It presents a detailed picture of the
London that I knew in the seventies, with its policemen and crooks,
bankers and call girls, reporters and politicians, its shops and slums,
its roads and its river. I loved it, and I hope you will too.
IT WAS the luckiest night of Tim Fitzpeterson’s life.
He thought this the moment he opened his eyes and saw the girl, in bed
beside him, still sleeping. He did not move, for fear of waking her;
but he looked at her, almost furtively, in the cold light of the London
dawn. She slept flat on her back, with the absolute relaxation of
small children. Tim was reminded of his own Adrienne when she was
little. He put the unwelcome thought out of his mind.