A Qatari takes on Wall St

Duckworth, £8.99

IT’S 1 October, 1999 and Karim, a genius computer progammer from Doha, is landing in New York. He’s been brought to help a company called Schrub Equities protect itself from the Y2K bug – New York’s biggest security concern at the time.

The opening of this first novel by Harvard-educated Teddy Wayne is the first of Karim’s diary entries – he’s recording his attempts at conversation with a spoiled American teen on the plane. Karim is earnest, awkward and bewildered by the culture of his temporary new home, even in the air. He’s also willing to go to any lengths to improve his English and carries a recording device around with him – left on at all times – for the purpose.

While at Schrub – who’s offices are in the World Trade Centre – Karim invents a brilliant new programme called Kapitoil, which predicts oil futures by analysing news stories. It’s lucrative, and suddenly Karim finds himself in a whirl of private jets and high-finance high-jinx. Yet he’s more confused than ever about the machinations and customs of Wall Street and is still desperately trying to find his feet in New York, negotiating his conflicting feelings about his family alongside his developing affection for his co-worker, Rebecca.

Karim’s voice throughout is a hilarious, touching delight: always logical, always grammatically correct, part business and part computer jargon, helplessly sincere. This is a uniquely amusing novel about oil (novels about oil don’t grow on trees), and presents an endearing and comedic hero. Any City reader worth their salt should enjoy it hugely.

Ebury, £18.99

PART of being a cultured, urban woman is cringing when Gok Wan pops up on screen, right? Definitely, except that a part of you – yes you – may also be unable to change the channel. A camp-as-Christmas half-Chinese man getting British women of all ages and shapes to strip off in an evangelical bid to make them feel better about themselves is just not something it’s easy to walk away from.

And love him or hate him, Wan has managed to muscle his way into the female consciousness in a far more positive way than other makeover gurus – I’d take him over the awful Nicky Hambleton-Jones, former presenter of Ten Years Younger, poo analyst Gillian McKeith or Trinny and Susannah, any day.

And oddly, his autobiography is rather gripping. He weighed 21 stone as a teenager and, soon after entering Central School of Speech and Drama, became anorexic, eating 40 laxatives a day and a spoonful of honey. But his family (mother English, father Chinese) – who sound brilliant – helped him get through it and maintain a will to live.

Wan’s big battle in life was food – as it is, to various degrees, with everyone who isn’t happy with their bodies. He describes his emotional relationship with food with admirable clarity and honesty, the whole swirling mess of associations with family and love interspersed with recipes with names such as Grandma’s Eggs and 2AM Steak.

The early years – full of gory detail of food binges, purges, near-death starvation, the agony of coming out as gay and eventual rallying – are gripping. In the final third, the story falls off and becomes a bit similar to the rubbish one fears it will be from the outset – a flurry of women in TV that Wan loves, and exciting moments in media.

But it’s an honest book, full of graphic and therefore gripping detail, and – cringe or no cringe – it’s also a teensy wheensy bit inspiring.

Orion, £18.99

OH goodie: another installment of literary crime fiction so gripping it reads like a dirty airport thriller. Indeed, Barclay’s latest is being hailed as his best – which is no small feat for the much-acclaimed author of No Time For Goodbye and Too Close To Home.
The central question of the book is this: can you ever know someone through and through?

David Harwood is a happily married reporter for a newspaper in New York state (Barclay himself works for the Toronto Sun), writing stories about local political corruption that earn him plenty of enemies. One day, he and his wife Jan and little Ethan go on an outing at an amusement park, but the day is shattered when someone tries to abduct Ethan. Both parents race after him, and eventually David finds him sleeping in a push chair nearby. Elatedly he goes to find Jan – except that he can’t. She’s disappeared.

What’s more, the park has no record of selling her a ticket, and she doesn’t show up on any security video. Nor is she at home. The police soon start to suspect that David killed Jan and concocted the park abduction story. But he begins digging into his wife’s past and learns he never really knew her. As the tension mounts, Barclay shows how even the most innocent action can seem suspicious, and how much of life is based on unexamined. A chilling triumph and a must-read.