Fancy a journey back in time to the world of reinsurance of the 1970s? John Jackson reviews Bad Boy by Stephen Gray
Back in the good old days - about 30 years ago to be more precise - there lived a world at One Lime Street which is light years away from the 'modern' Lloyd's.
There must be many still around the market who sigh for its return.
That was the world of legendary brokers and underwriters with double-barrelled names, four-hour expensive lunches and mega-deals often conducted with a nonchalance that could only make mere mortals gasp.
It was a world that had not yet experienced political correctness, social engineering, human resources wonks, employment and health and safety legal minefields, and state-controlled regulation.
Life ran at an easier pace in those days, and face-to-face was the sole way of doing business.
People met people - actually spoke to each other.
Yes, a bygone age. indeed. Computers were virtually unknown and mobile phones, iPods and palmtops non-existent.
It is a return to this almost-forgotten world that Stephen Gray has transported us in his own version of the Police Box with its flashing light, acting as a latter-day Doctor Who.
Transported back to the days of Perry Como records and Ford Anglia cars, his two main characters - Michael and Mac - grow up together as childhood friends and both eventually become reinsurance brokers.
How they finally set up together in business, and the Machiavellian treachery that surrounds them, is not as implausible in real life as it sounds in a work of fiction.
Stranger than fiction
Truth has often been stranger than fiction at Lloyd's.
The author takes us from the childhood friendship of Michael and Mac through to their labyrinthine reinsurance deals, in every respect a Cain and Abel duo, with Michael fighting hard to stay on the side of the broking righteous and Mac as dodgy as a small print exclusion clause.
The story revolves around a reinsurance deal concocted by Michael called 'Inherent Value' or 'IV'.
This involves takeovers and, as the author explains, it means reinsurers getting together to buy the future profits of a company on blocks of business - or milking the future profit stream.
As the reinsurers pool the risk, no single reinsurer stands to lose much if things go pear-shaped.
But an underwriter wants to use it as a means of tax evasion, going behind the backs of his Names.
Any reader not familiar with insurance needs to keep a close watch on the developments of the scheme in the story as it unfolds apace throughout the book.
However, the overriding message is simple: Michael wants to hold on to his integrity, but Mac and others are less scrupulous about how they do business in the market.
Both Michael and Mac have complicated love lives to add spice to what could otherwise be a dull story of everyday (30 years ago) Lloyd's folk.
However, Stephen Gray's knowledge of the market ensures that even the less than adrenalin-running background of reinsurance broking deals can make for good reading.
But the intertwining of the personal lives of Michael and Mac with the intrigue of the deals, and the double dealing -I won't give too much of the plot away - has a ring of real life about it.
Even today's Financial Services Authority cannot regulate for human nature or, in particular, its frailties.
The plot runs from Lloyd's and its environs to the United States, Bermuda and Australia, to the annual reinsurance rendezvous at Monte Carlo.
For Lloyd's buffs, many of the places around One Lime Street mentioned in the book will be familiar, and the author plays heavily on his knowledge of the area.
It is a pity that the author has two of the less lovable characters singled out as Masons, accusing one of them of "blabbing indiscriminately at a Lodge meeting while chomping on a cigar - like Masons do".
He even throws in a mention of Lutine Lodge - which is well-known as having been formed by Lloyd's underwriters and brokers, hence the name - to add spice to the plot.
It turns out that the Masonic connection is totally irrelevant to the story but I suppose the inevitable and tiresome reference to rolled-up trouser legs is always good for a snigger among the uninitiated.
Inevitably, it being Lloyd's of the 1970s, there is an element of class warfare in the characters.
Michael and Mac are the plebs with the villains of the story being the characteristic public school twits and chinless wonders so loved of writers.
I know this is a work of fiction, but it is nevertheless irritating that the author has to comment that brokers are "Not quite clever enough to go to university; not quite clever enough to do up their shoelaces".
Perhaps brokers today have been to university, passing with distinction in such academically-testing subjects as media studies and humanities, and using velcro to keep their shoes on instead of laces. Such is the march of progress.
I am not sure whether the author wanted the readers to shed a tear of sympathy for the female characters but, while they blend well into his story, I thought they deserved all they got - with the exception of one unpleasant event near the end.
If there is any sympathy, it is that neither Michael nor Mac kept them in the loop, but then neither were they strictly kosher with each other, or those they dealt with in the market, either.
Only a Lloyd's insider could have written such a highly readable and convincing work of fiction around reinsurance, and Stephen Gray has succeeded well in his task.
But then he is someone who, by the age of 30, had arranged the world's largest reinsurance.
This book also proves what an exciting - and often devious - business insurance can be. Dull it isn't!
The author has a pleasing style, with a smooth transition from one rapidly changing situation to another. This is easily readable prose.
I for one would have loved to have seen some of his policy wordings. IT
' Bad Boy by Stephen Gray is available in hardback at £16.99.