Office affairs are rarely wise

Fig Tree, £12.99
by Zoe Strimpel

STELLA, Bella, Rhys and James are four employees at fictional City-based oil giant Atlantic Energy. Stella is an executive in her mid-forties with two kids and a stable – if slightly unexciting – marriage. Bella is a PA, with an alcoholic ex-boyfriend who is also the father of her moody daughter.

James is a company director and Bella’s boss. Rhys is a talented, mouthy Welsh graduate trainee and Stella is his boss. So far, so harmless.

But the entropy of human lust begins to take hold as Rhys, rather than being a cocky, ungrateful thorn in Stella’s side becomes a helpful, adoring and suddenly fascinating young colleague. Very persistent, too, sending her late-night BlackBerry messages and making up excuses to see her. Stella – whose life is a little low on rapture and very high on being sensible – begins to crumble. Then she tumbles – into love. The results – greatly to financial journalist Kellaway’s credit – do not lead to anything approaching a fairytale ending. More like a car crash that it is impossible not to stare at till it’s cleaned up.

Just down the hall, James is finding Bella rather a talented PA and therefore finds plenty for her to do. Bella, for her part, finds James pleasantly unthreatening as a boss and likes the way he takes an interest in her. He’s so different from the type of men she normally works for – and dates. The only problem is, just like Stella, James is married.

Kellaway has made a fluffy Mills and Boon-style tale for the modern City office, plucking out all the corny bits, and creating something both deliciously light and oddly heavy. It’s a brilliant spin on the office romance and just how it can get under and over the skin, within the workplace and without. Be prepared to blush – and to look at your colleagues in a new way.

Penguin, £25
by Jessica Mead

HUNDREDS of books about the causes of the financial crisis have already been published so another tome about the global markets’ collapse could easily be dismissed. Crisis Economics, however, should not be.

For a start, one of its authors is Nouriel Roubini, who claims to have been one of the very few people to have accurately predicted the credit crunch. That alone should lend some weight, and the book thankfully steers clear of a told-you-so attitude.

The backdrop is the now-familiar account of how the crisis played out, from the sub-prime disaster to the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the chaos that ensued in the autumn of 2008 across the globe. Its premise that crises frequently repeat themselves is not exactly new: Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff tackled this very subject in their 2009 book This Time is Different.

But there are two aspects of the book that really makes Crisis Economics stand out. First is the skilful way in which Roubini and Mihm interweave the well-known facts with a discussion of the historical parallels and economic theory from across the spectrum. For example, few people are likely to have heard of the financial panic that gripped Britain in 1825 as a result of an asset bubble in investments linked to Peru, let alone draw parallels between the Bank of England’s actions in 1825 and 2008.

The second half of the book is made up of the authors’ proposals for action. In their view, the status quo is unsustainable, whether it is banks’ attitudes to risk or the global imbalances that were at the heart of the latest crisis. Whether you agree with their proposals or not – Glass-Steagall on steroids might not go down too well in the City – reading their arguments is both interesting and informative.

Mantle £17.99
by Zoe Strimpel

THE thriller genre is as cluttered as any other with pretenders and hopefuls, but now you can sit back and relax, for the king of the legal thriller – the man who spawned the whole genre (Law and Order couldn’t have existed without him; and his debut preceded John Grisham’s A Time To Kill) – is back. Better yet, it’s with a follow-up to his seminal Presumed Innocent (made into the 1990 film starring Harrison Ford), picks up 23 years on from where Presumed left off. If you haven’t read Turow before, you’ll still enjoy this, since he writes from the position of a real pro. He’s a partner in a major Chicago law firm, with victories under his belt including the exoneration of a wrongly accused death row prisoner.

In Presumed Innocent, protagonist and prosecutor Rusty Sabich is accused of murdering his ex-lover Carolyn Polhemus. This time round Rusty, aged 60 and a senior appeal court judge, is accused of murdering his manic-depressive, hermetic wife Barbara. Tommy, a prosecuting attorney, remains his main adversary and swoops in on the chance to put Rusty behind bars. The ailing Sandy steps up to Rusty’s defence for the second time – indeed, the evidence against Rusty does look a bit nasty; he woke up next to a dead Barbara and then waited 24 hours to report the death.

Rusty’s personal life – particularly the presence of a lover – is also incriminating. But his love life adds a wonderful layer of texture to his character and the book. Turow’s riffs on the romantic agonies of the ageing male have even been compared to those of Philip Roth. Indeed this is a perfect marriage of literary style with the addictiveness of the page-turner. The master is back and although the jury’s out – as it were – on whether it matches up to Presumed Innocent, this won’t leave you disappointed.