Welcome to the nbmagazine.co.uk stop on the blog tour for The Umbrella Men by Keith Carter!

Here’s a little info about the book:

Finance, environmentalism, rare-earth mining and human frailties collide in a complex of flawed motives. We follow Peter Mount, the self-made Chief Executive of a London-based rare-earth mining company as he and his business are buffeted by crisis-torn Royal Bank of Scotland and by his own actions, real and imagined. Meanwhile in Oregon, Amy Tate and her group of local environmental activists do their contradictory part to undermine a component of the green economy, unwittingly super-charged by the Chinese state. The repercussions of events in pristine Oregon are felt in the corporate and financial corridors of New York and London with drastic consequences. This is a deeply involving novel about the current workings of capitalism, miscommunication, causes and unexpected effects, love and survival.

And about author Keith Carter:

Born in Scotland, he read Economics at Cambridge, taking a First in 1981 when he was elected a Scholar. He worked as an investment banker before going straight and running a small pharmaceutical company. Now a writer and business consultant he enjoys travel, politics and economics, reading and writing, languages, music and meals with family and friends. Keith suffered a spinal cord injury in March 2018 and since rides a wheelchair.

And here’s Paul Burke’s review of The Umbrella Men:

“What is the robbing of a bank compared to the founding of a bank?” Bertolt Brecht.

Not so much a left-wing slogan as a general perception these days. The banking crisis is not a subject that novelists tackle head on very often. Don’t be put off, I know the fear is that the subject is too dry and too complex to make for a gripping read. However, Carter has written an involving and provocative novel that it’s easy to take to. Humorous, acerbic and keenly observed, the financial crisis is properly skewered. Carter has made this generic nightmare come alive in The Umbrella Men by focusing on a small group of people all influencing or affected by the fortunes of Rareterre, a small mining company. The focus is on the characters and the way they cross paths and swords over the short time span of the story as the world around them spirals downwards. Of course, the financial situation in the build up and aftermath of the 2008 crisis underpins everything in the novel but financial detail bleeds into the story in a controlled and easily digestible way. The black comedy helps, how else so you stare into an abyss and survive?

This is a well-written book, strangely endearing, once into it and familiar with the players, readers will find it flows effortlessly. This is really not a heavy read, it’s very accessible. Carter has broken the story up into short bursts, so that each strand progresses side by side making it a pacy read. That also allows a huge cast of characters and locations to blend naturally. The Umbrella Men couldn’t be more topical; the financial crisis, ecological concerns, capitalism, greed, regulation and the devastating effect on people of the financial meltdown. The terrifying thought is that it could all happen again.

“The market, as we are all painfully aware in the aftermath of the banking crisis, can be an idiot. It has no perception of right or wrong, or even sensible or insane. It sees profit.” Nick Harkaway.

November 2008, the London School of Economics. The Queen is opening a new building when a poster takes her eye, ‘managing the credit crunch’. It prompts her to ask the sheepish-looking economists a question about the signs of an approaching catastrophe that no one picked up on, why were they missed? One expert is pushed to the front by his colleagues mumbling something about trust and thinking that someone else knew what they are doing so it would all work out. On behalf of the nation the Queen says, ‘awful’.

Okay, it’s hardly a retort worthy of Groucho Marx, and some of the jibes and one liners fall short in the novel, but this skit illustrates how the simple can be made complicated in the wrong hands and gets us up and running.

2006. Peter Mount is the chief executive of a small mining firm, he muses on the responsibilities of his role and wonders what it would be like to be the boss of a big company. Rareterre owns the rare-earth metals mine at Trillium Lake near Mount Hood, Oregon, USA. Peter resents that he spends so much time on shareholder reports and dealing with the London Stock Exchange, Rareterre is listed on the Alternative Investments Market. The metals they are looking for may not glitter like gold but they are a lot more practical and they are needed for the modern world to function. Technology has an insatiable appetite for these metals for batteries, magnets, hard drives etc., green technology for everything from Toyota Pruises to wind farms.

Ivy Mount has accepted her role as wife and mother, she is faithful and reliable, but she likes to spend. Peter’s salary is not enough but he has shares in the company, 2.5 million shares at £1.20, that’s £3 million. Not withstanding that the CEO selling his own shares would undermine the company Ivy has no problem living off the ‘locked in’ pile. Peter bought into the company ten years ago with a £25,000 loan from his father, by the millennium he was in for £100,000. But think of the potential!

The mine on Trillium Lake closed in 1999 but now the rare-earth metals, terbium, holmium, erbium, etc., have been discovered it’s valuable again. Rareterre is just in the process of reopening the mine, not exploiting it yet, it’s all about the potential. The shareholders are gambling on big returns in the future.

Amy lives on the Upper East Side, New York, and today is ‘Execution Day’; jettison the job, the city life, and the boyfriend. Shane is banging on the apartment door, his possessions are in the hall. Satisfyingly the doorman escorts him from the building. Amy just doesn’t care enough about the money to want to stay at Bloom and Beck, she hates all the macho bull anyway.

“Amy’s problem was that she was unable to accept that the people she worked with were worth their pay, yet the whole ethos of her workplace continually reminded everyone that they were indeed worth it; that was exactly how their worth was measured, each differentially valued according to that Pool percentage.” [Pool = bonus pot]

Amy moves to quiet Mount Hood in Oregon, she could live off her savings and take a local job to keep her bank account ticking over. The first morning she noticed the noise, machinery, trucks. . .

The crew were getting annoyed at the petty sabotage, at first they thought it was kids but CCTV proved a large guy was mounting a one man campaign, he always keeps his face out of shot, and they hadn’t been able to catch him yet.

Hoxie Tomahas is Yale educated but honestly he hadn’t done much with his education since he returned to his Native American home but now he is invited to join the Trail 26 Conservation Society as a member of the board of trustees. Could this be the making of Hoxie?

Now you have the flavour to The Umbrella Men you can see that this novel of the banking crisis is a very human tale. Yes, it’s a story that reflects on the wider issue and travels around; New York, London, Oregon, China, but it’s a very human story. I found this an enjoyable read, occasionally misfiring but overall it is intriguing and engaging.

Paul Burke 4/3

The Umbrella Men by Keith Carter
Neem Tree Press 9781911107057 hbk Oct 2019