NO CLIFFHANGER, tear-jerker, nail-biter, page-turner here. Cashing In is a suspense-free novel about crime in high places and about bankers at work and play. Or, rather, at work-related play. Their play, i.e. sex, is dutiful, unerotic and so integrated into their automated calendars as to be just another appointment. The only genuine suspense is in how the heroine's gets back to the office punctually after her lunchtime rendezvous.
Cashing In garbles some familiar ideas on morality and big business. The writing is thoroughly undistinguished, and although the pseudononymous authors ("two executives of a New York bank," says the jacket copy) may be faithfully recording the jargon of their profession, they are, regrettably, dealing with people who say such things as, "Ray LaRocca was a new hire, an alumnus of the manufacturing section and eager to source some of his ideas into the mainstream." Now if a book doesn't offer important ideas or felicitous language, it can perhaps justify its existence by explaining how something works--the operation of an international spy ring, for example, or the advertising industry or an airport. But even at the level of a behind-the- scenes whodunit, Cashing In is a washout. It may be a book only a banker can love. The average commuting executive or techno-slave won't be much enamored or enlightened.
Lisa Gould--Mount Holyoke, Stanford MBA, wife to Barry the lawyer who works almost as hard as she does--is on the extra fast track at Globebank in New York City, moving up briskly from section to area to division to group. Soon she finds herself in close contact with the handsome engineer responsible for building Autotran, a computerized automatic money transfer system and the key to Globebank's international success. Their romance begins in intimate albeit decorous moments at a Globebank "off-site"-- that's what the bank calls its seaside meetings at Caribbean hotels. Lisa's wardrobe is described in useful detail.
Lisa and her boss, colleagues and underlings work out their ambitions, accomplishments, conflicts, power plays and aggravations through the quotidian mire of memos, staff meetings, gossip, personnel changes, firings, flirtations, assorted wheelings and sordid dealings. We come away not much informed and scarcely entertained.
When white-collar felony rears its ugly head--an officer at another bank informs Lisa that someone has been using Autotran to steal big bucks from other banks around the world --Lisa has to make some Tough Decisions. Will she or won't she make the right ones? Will she put company responsibility ahead of personal loyalty? When does negotiation become blackmail? A cauldron of ambiguities and conflicts begins to boil. So why doesn't it sound like real life? Why does it come across as immensely contrived? And must we believe, as the authors seem to, that one steals in business just because it can be done? Because it's so easy. Because the technology to do it is >there. In truth, the technology seems much more benign than the people. Here is Lisa at her most aroused:
"Lisa hung on his words. Linearization. Assembly-line concept. Controls of speed and accuracy. Forecast-based financial control. A proactive management style.
"It was not, she realized, the words alone that excited her, or the elegantly simple ideas behind the words, or even the actions that the ideas had set in motion. It was, rather, the power behind it all. To be the moving force behind a change this big, to take a blank slate and draw your own vision, whatever you wanted--that was what stirred Lisa.
"She felt it as a physical sensation as she sat in the large darkened auditorium, watching the charts and graphs on the screen, listening to Kilgour's faint midwestern twang . . . 'We have streamlined for control--control of the process,' Kilgour hissed. 'With that kind of control we can mold the process to our own objectives. And that's what managing is all about.'
"Lisa shuddered. Yes, that's what it's all about. You control the process, and you mold it to do what you want. But first you need control."
One could most profitably read this novel as yet another handbook on how to get ahead in business. It addresses such perenially fascinating questions about office mores and manners as:
Should one have an office romance? Everyone at Globebank seems to, especially married people, and everyone else at the office knows about it. According to the statistics here, only 331/2 percent of all interoffice affairs are genuinely enjoyed by both partners.
How important is dressing for success? "Good" women with appropriate disgust at corporate moral vagaries wear flowered skirts and T-shirts. That fashion lesson is unequivocal.
Should you rat on your lover if you find that he has stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars from several banks via your bank's computer system? Yes, certainly get him out of your company, but it's not polite to prosecute.
What should you do when a male colleague says, "Let's go to my apartment for dinner. I have two steaks in the freezer."? Expect to end up in bed because it takes steak a long time to defrost.
So the lesson of big business as illuminated by the upper- middle management staff at Globebank turns out to be what every mother's daughter already knows: Be a good girl and marry a nice Jewish lawyer.