Marc's Reviews > The Fear Index

The Fear Index by Robert   Harris
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Apr 02, 12

Read from March 16 to 31, 2012, read count: 1

This techno-financial thriller takes place in Geneva, Switzerland, over a 24-hour period, precisely from midnight to midnight on May 6, 2010. The choice of date is no accident; events that occurred in financial markets on that date (I won't drop any spoilers but, if you're interested, you can simply Google the date to learn more) are closely integrated into the plot of the novel.

The protagonist, Alex Hoffmann, is a brilliant physicist whose specialty (and obsession) is "autonomous machine reasoning" (AMR), or artificial intelligence. Eight years ago he co-founded Hoffmann Investment Technologies, an algorithmic hedge fund (one in which all buy and sell decisions are made and implemented entirely by computer). The company has achieved great success, and Hoffmann is now a billionaire. He's also antisocial, depressive, and borderline psychotic.

And he's not very likeable. Neither are most of the other characters, and this proved for me to be one of the book's key weaknesses: I just couldn't bring myself to care very much about what happened to these people. Another weakness is that too many extraordinary things happen during this 24-hour period -- impacting Hoffmann, his wife, his company, and global financial markets -- to sustain credibility.

The first two chapters were very exciting, and drew me in completely; the author is very good at pacing and suspense. But the story then got bogged down with technical and financial details and never really recovered. The result was that the intense and explosive action sequences that came later felt absurd and over the top, like desperate but misplaced attempts to compensate the reader for the tedious and jargon-laden chapters that preceded them. The book ends abruptly at midnight; it felt as if the author was committed more to wrapping up the action in exactly 24 hours than to telling and resolving a good story.

I'm a big fan of Robert Harris and have read and enjoyed nearly all of his books. This is his weakest effort, however, recommended only to hard core fans of hedge fund thrillers.

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