I: Why the series’ title is THE DEAD BANK DIARY?
A: The dead banks are the symbol of that time. So many banks expired through the national Default of 1998, and carried on after the same in a zombie way. There were too many of those. Why the Central Bank had not declared them bankrupt and let them siphon off their assets? Why the forward commitment to non-resident banks had been paid through the crisis? That is rather a rhetorical question. The Central Bank was involved with the same. Wealthy people were behind those banks.
The book series action starts back in 1998. The time of Default I keep close to my heart, I ’m still living it through. They say, the time of troubles may come and go, while the people it touched still can’t stop living it through. Why so? That maybe because life in Russia deserves the case name of Russian ennui that so many classics dwell on. At the time of Default it was done with, and there came the era of overindulgence and outlawry, that is to say, the times of freedom which had never more happened ever since. I am missing those days.
I: Tell me a little about your first thriller THE DEAD BANK DIARY.
A: This is the first novel from the series. You can read each novel independently. There are the same characters. My novels are not based on a true story – that would be stupid – but you will feel the reality. The story is told from the first person; it’s me. No violent crimes, or anything of the kind. No politics or ‘dangerous’ Russian reality. Only MONEY. Beautiful financial schemes and frauds are in each novel. I love the beautiful gray area schemes on the verge of a crime. There will be a hostile takeover of a bank or forced bankruptcy. Raider attacks on banks attract me the most.
I: What attracts you to a bank raid?
A: I saw a bank takeover with my own eyes from the beginning to the end. This had an unsuccessful ending. But there was a moment when Victor said, Imagine this is your own bank.
Maybe Willie Sutton felt the same. It was no more pleasant than being in the bank at night alone.
I: Is there really a lot in your writing that has happened to you?
A: Yes, everyone in the stock market knew about it. Before default the banks fell down as a house of cards. Banks were pumped up with money and went bankrupt very easily. It was the period of wild capitalism, and I was lucky that time has passed through me.
I: You write you have been sick with millions…
A: Of course, big and easy money is like a drug. I hid this disease a long time, as alcoholics or addicts do. And then I used as well. Maybe I was lucky that I remained without work. I also realized that I would never get a job. What was important earlier to me lost its sense. I had a hungry look.
At that time I was mixed up. People had lost their former life. It was easy to get acquainted with everyone: a minister, a diplomat, a vice-president of the bank… I felt that time was not so long. That crazy time would leave as fast as a river. It would take the big fish away. It would go down to the depths. Already that time has gone. That time you could catch a big fish with your bare hands. I have nothing to regret.
I: Are these frauds real?
A: Yes, they are true. But to accomplish this you need an insider in the bank. Better someone on the bank board. Or you must get a lot of money to fall down the bank.
I: Is money the main thing in your novels?
A: Yes: if you’re wondering how to get money out from thin air, the smell of money, how to reverse off-balance money, how to break banks, then my novels are for you. I write all about the money. The reader will always know what to expect.
I: The main hero of the series is Victor; meanwhile the hero of the first novel is Ilya. Why so?
A: Books are written in memory of Victor, a retired Foreign Intelligence Service officer and a fraudster. I was lucky to meet him. He died more than ten years ago. At the heart of all the novels will be my memories of him.
The hero of the first thriller and the following novels is Ilya, the bank’s chairman. He is in his seventies. I imagine that some readers will be turned off by his age. But heroes come from anywhere. Writers sometimes say that characters find themselves. Ilya is a real person. He had become a hero unexpectedly for me. But I cannot tell who this character really is. In any case, all the heroes I’ve written about are real people. Default time in 1998 has made its own characters. They have been called the children of default. In real life they look like characters in a novel. It seems to me that the real life is much more interesting than any fiction.
I: Your novels are realistic, aren’t they?
A: Exactly. While I worked as a market middleman, I made some digital recordings. That’s a lot of hours of negotiations. I did not make these recordings for my safety. There is no danger if you know the rules of Russian deals. Did I feel that very sharply at the time? I realized that the time of default would pass away. And to build a business from scratch would be impossible. I felt everything would come to an end very quickly. There were crazy days. I do not know why I’ve made these recordings. It was done by intuition. My novels have begun from these records. Some conversations were so interesting that they were included in the text with a few changes.
But the novels are not realistic. They are not like ‘Liar’s Poker’ by Michael Lewis, for example. My thrillers are completely in line with the laws of the novelistic genre. Here there is intrigue, the heroes find out something unexpected about themselves, and there is a twist in the end. That is why in the first thriller I have got a US Federal Reserve Bond, face value one million dollars, issued in 1934. A very beautiful fake.
I: Was this bond real?
A: Oh, yes. Some fakes arrived on the market from various backgrounds. One of the most plausible stories says that a box with these bonds was taken out from Germany at the end of World War II. Boxes are gone around the world. So the Fed decided to devalue them. Dresdner bank issued a letter about its ability to accept the bonds. There was one thing: each bond had to have the Treasury Certificate, Global Immunity and Gold Bullion Certificate. But there were not. It’s just a beautiful story. They say also that one of boxes taken out from Germany had been opened by one of our drunk generals. But it is known that some the European banks accepted these bonds as a deposit. I haven’t held this bond in my hands. I had only a high-quality digital copy. It’s a terrific document. And I have seen the parent papers. The stories about these bonds are so various… I told a one in my novel.
In fact, the story of a document from Dresdner Bank seems true. Once a casual acquaintance from special service said that not so many years ago, he unloaded trucks with trophies from German museums, which were brought from Moscow to Tomsk. There were leather-bound folios with engravings. They have not been packed and were unloaded without inventory. They were frozen in the thirty-degree frost.
I: Do you have any acquaintances from special service?
A: Just a few. These are the people from whom I try to be as distant as possible. But time goes on, things change. If someone said that I was seeking an 80-year-old professor, former officer of the NKVD (the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs, the forerunner of the KGB), and we would have absolutely similar views on life, I would never believe it.
I: Is he Ilya?
A: Partly. Outwardly of course. He was a handsome, 6’5 feet tall, accustomed to getting any woman he wants.
I: And so your hero is in his seventies…
A: Yes, Ilya would not be the chairman of the bank if he was younger. It would be not plausible. But he is a strong hero. He loves risk. Do not worry, the main hero never will die and will not be ill at all. And what the hell can I do if this hero appeared, living his own life? He is stronger than me.
I: Your novels are written from the first person. You are the storyteller and the hero. How much truth is in your words?
A: Not a lot. But I am the reliable storyteller. You can trust me. There are two main heroes: Ilya and me. There is a main hero in two characters. I am the hero who could not pull off the plot. I am the type of hero who is called ‘a magnet for shit’.
And Ilya, on the other hand, is the bastard. He breaks all the rules. He cannot be understood. He is not cruel himself. He has his logic. To be with Ilya is like making a deal with a devil. He doesn’t need a victory or money. For him there is neither good nor evil. He simply stretches a hand and undresses who he needs. He can undress FSB (former KGB) or the church. He does not care.
Ilya is an outstanding character. I am glad that this hero has found me, and let me to write first four novels, and I hope there will be new one. He is inexhaustible. It’s not just a thriller but a love story.
I: Tell me about yourself as a hero.
A: I’m a free trader, without any work, without a family and without any attachments. I’ve got a father. We met each other when I was a child, and I am happy with him. My heroes have also no family. They have a past, but I do not describe it. They simply live day by day. Each novel is one month in the lives of the characters. A story begins wherever it catches them. There are no memories.
I go on my way following the big money. It attracts me. I am infected with crazy millions. The people like me are few. Time has changed. It seems my kind doesn’t exist anymore. I have an outgoing nature. But I love going after millions. It seems I will die on the run. I think I’m going mad. Where will I be on my way? Let me.
I: Are all of you heroes swindlers?
A: Yes, they are ordinary people. There are no good guys. There are no murderers. Losers just stay without money. Money is the most humane weapon.
I: Why are they so?
A: I have the answer in my second novel FOR THOSE IN THE SHADE. They are that way by nature. They just eat each other. Sometimes literally. And there is nothing to do about it. It is simply a life. There is a beautiful and convincing psychological theory about it. It’s founder is a Russian prof. Porshnev.
I: You have a philosophical degree. Are there other philosophical theories?
A: Nietzsche and Russian philosopher Berdyaev are closer to me. But in my novels there are no long conversations. My heroes do not sit down with a cup of coffee. Each novel has a theme and a counter-theme. For example, the person is against the tyranny of absolute power, or against the law of necessity.
I: How about you? Are you a badass hero?
A: Of course. But I found it hard to write about myself as a badass. It was real hell. Good guys seem boring and unrealistic to me.
I: How much do you write about Moscow?
A: Not a lot. It’s so funny to see how Hollywood films present Moscow as a dangerous city. Moscow does not differ from a European megalopolis.
But of course it is Moscow. I write about that time when the city was flooded with fantastic money. All was on sale: oil, gas, diamonds, public debts… The city breathed big money. I often write about it.
That time has gone, and the city was paralyzed without money. During that time empty buses were passing through downtown. And again Moscow began to choke with million-strong oil contracts, federal programs and cheap bank guarantees. Also there were offers of high yield private placement programs with sonorous names of the Top 100 European banks. With mad percentages. They had nostalgia for those days that had recently fallen. They smelled of the quiet life.
I: Don’t you think Moscow is a dangerous city?
A: I understand your question. Well, as dangerous as an arms dealer? Maybe now there is some interest in Moscow, but I would not like to write more about Moscow as a landscape. Of course, my main hero has a bodyguard.
Is Russia dangerous? No. People with ideology are dangerous. Rich Russians have not got it. Ideology is for the poor. The poor cannot make a rich state.
I: Have you had a hard life? Are you writing much about yourself?
A: Not much. But I try to explain what a person feels after he has been gobbled up by a city such as Moscow.