At first light, a hooded man, a man unseen by everyone except a writer, a writer with a penchant for unnecessary sub-clauses, a writerly writer whose sentences were often over-stretched, moved slowly along Pepys Road in south London, an address that had become increasingly fashionable.
December 2007: At No 51, Roger Yount rose to leave for Pinker Lloyd, the investment bank whose trading division he ran. As he was wondering if this year's bonus would be in the region of £1m, it was safe to assume he was in for a big disappointment and he would end up with just £30K. Several hours later, after the nanny had taken care of the kids, his wife, Arabella, deigned to get out of bed. "Hell," she said to herself. "If I've been typecast as a yummy mummy, then I'm going to a spa for Christmas." It was only when she went downstairs she noticed someone had put a card through the letterbox saying: "We want what you have."
Ahmed opened the corner shop. "I guess this means that I'm the hard-working Asian. I suppose I've got a stroppy, devout brother, Usman, and a brother, Shahid, who is dozy enough to let a jihadi terrorist stay in his flat?" "Yup," said Usman and Shahid, who had also found a card saying, "We want what you have", on the floor.
Petunia Howe knew she had only one purpose in life. As the oldest and only working-class resident of the street, accidentally living in a property worth £2m, she understood she had to die and leave the property to her daughter, Margaret. Her grandson, Smitty, was an anonymous conceptual artist: like Banksy, a character who promised to be more interesting than he was. Petunia, too, got one of those cards.
As did Mickey Lipton-Miller, a lawyer, though he had more pressing things on his mind. That day, Freddy Kamo, the 17-year-old Senegalese football sensation, was coming to live in his house. Freddy didn't care much if he was a cipher or whether the author's tangential lapses into football tactics felt awkward; he just wanted to play football, which was a shame as he should have known he would receive a career-ending injury within minutes of making his full Premiership debut.
Quentina Mkfesi only got to appear in the novel because she was the parking warden for Pepys Road, but she had no complaints when Mickey suggested to the sleepy detective that she was responsible for the threatening cards, as her function was to prove the law of unintended consequences: so when she was revealed to be an illegal immigrant and threatened with deportation, she just thought: "Life's a bitch."
September 2008: Roger might not have been so thrilled that Pinker Lloyd had gone bust had he not already been sacked after his deputy was found guilty of illegal trading in a scam, which, even by City standards, stretched the bounds of credibility. Besides which, it had given Arabella a wake-up call.
Her mother having long since died, Margaret was amazed to discover that Zbigniew the builder had found £500K in used tenners that her father had hidden in the house. "The money's about as worthless as this plot twist," she said. Zbigniew didn't mind. He was going to marry the Younts' former nanny.
Mickey ought to have been pleased that Freddy got £5m in compensation, but he, too, had lost interest in that storyline, so it was left to Ahmed to get Shahid out of Belmarsh and tick off Usman for sending the cards. "Don't be too harsh," said Smitty. "It was my ex-assistant who did the really nasty stuff."
Had the reader not found the whole story so contrived and absurd by this stage, he might have noticed the Younts selling their house and moving to the country, having concluded that capital was indeed overhyped.
Digested read, digested: Sub-prime.FictionJohn LanchesterJohn Craceguardian.co.uk © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds