A banker's bash at philosophy is short on logic

GOOD VALUE<br /><strong>By Stephen Green</strong><br />ALLEN LANE, &pound;20<br /><br />SAMUEL JOHNSON famously opined about watching a dog walk on its hind legs: it is not done well, but you are surprised to find it done at all. Something of the same reaction seems to be behind the excitement generated by this book. It is laudable that Green, the CEO of HSBC and also an ordained priest, has decided to write a book looking at the moral dimensions of capitalism. It&rsquo;s just a shame it&rsquo;s not more hard-hitting, thoughtful or <br />original.<br /><br />The idea that bankers ought to act ethically will raise expectations and eyebrows in equal measure, and one suspects that the idea that bankers should or could become saints might be met with scepticism in certain parts of the City.<br /><br />There are plenty of ways to argue that capitalism is morally good &ndash; it rewards hard work and talent, for example, which is a better way for society to create and distribute wealth than any other. It might also be argued that capitalists ought to have a moral hinterland, that human beings ought to be more than money-making machines.<br /><br />Unfortunately, Green&rsquo;s agenda is a little more eccentric. The book begins as a rambling attempt to put capitalism in historical context &ndash; there are lots of winding medieval streets in glamorous European locations which Green visits for conferences. Sadly, the book&rsquo;s argument is as windy as some of these streets, touching superficially on all sorts of things (he&rsquo;s fond of showing that he&rsquo;s read TS Eliot), before heading off in a curious direction. Finger-pointing and hell-fire sermonising are sadly thin on the ground.<br /><br />The conclusion involves some unconvincing arguments based around the bizarre ideas of French mystic Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (if you please). <br /><br />It&rsquo;s unlikely that the City&rsquo;s pews will be filling up as a result of this book, or indeed that anybody will be re-evaluating their investment strategies. A missed opportunity. <br /><br />THE SCARECROW<br /><strong>Michael Connelly</strong><br />ORION, &pound;18.99<br /><br />MICHAEL CONNELLY used to be a crime reporter, so if anybody knows the crime thriller beat, it&rsquo;s him. In his latest book, he is definitely playing to his strengths &ndash; as is hero Jack McEvoy, a hard-bitten crime reporter for the LA Times who is coming to the end of his career.<br /><br />Instead of spending his final month training his callow replacement, though, McEvoy (who also starred in Connelly&rsquo;s earlier books The Poet and The Narrows) decides that he&rsquo;s going to go out with a bang, and starts chasing a story that will win him the Pulitzer Prize.<br /><br />He starts out with the story a 16-year-old drug-dealer who he hopes will give him a story about the collapse of society. Soon, though, he gets in deeper than he planned and realises that he is onto a murderer so scary that he frightens other criminals and who the police are totally unaware of.<br /><br />Our hero is soon led into the unsexy world of data hosting (servers and computers seem to fascinate middle-aged thriller-writers, who always seem to find tech-geeks far more sinister than they ought to, don&rsquo;t you find?), and people who call themselves &ldquo;scarecrows&rdquo;.<br /><br />Well-crafted, snazzily-written and with all the grizzly murders and plot twists you could hope for, the tension is handled well, with neat switches between narrators as the book comes to its climax. The phrase &ldquo;page-turner&rdquo; was invented for books like this. <br /><br />THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE<br /><strong>By Stieg Larsson</strong><br />QUERCUS, &pound;6.99<br /><br />THE PAPERBACK release of this Swedish thriller comes just at the right time for readers choosing books for their holidays. The third in the Millennium trilogy by the late Stieg Larsson, The Girl Who Played With Fire sees the return of violent genius Lisbeth Salander, a young woman with a grisly past and a high threshold for the gruesome exacting of revenge and justice, especially where women are concerned. As with the previous two books in the trilogy, Salander&rsquo;s deeply flawed character is what lends urgent intrigue and interest to this one. She&rsquo;s so ruthless, manipulative, angry and extreme, she&rsquo;s almost a psychopath. She&rsquo;s also a prodigy computer hacker. And she&rsquo;s faced with a tricky situation.<br /><br />The journal Millennium, run by Salander&rsquo;s former flame, Blomkvist, is about to publish an expose of sex trafficking from Russia to Sweden, in which top officials are named. But just before publication, the authors are shot dead. The gun used to kill them is found to have belonged to Lisbeth&rsquo;s former guardian, a lawyer. He is then shot dead, and the prime suspect emerges as Salander.<br /><br />The chief suspect in a triple murder, she doesn&rsquo;t help herself by disappearing &ndash; in hiding she conducts her own search for the guilty party as the nation&rsquo;s police pursue her. The hunt for the murderers throws up a plethora of deranged criminals with all the sadism, blood and gore you could hope for. This is pure Scandinavian noir and a rippingly good read.