Paul E(mil) Erdman Essay - Critical Essays

Erdman, Paul E(mil)


Paul E(mil) Erdman 1932–

American novelist.

A former economist and banker, Erdman uses his knowledge of international finance to provide his readers with realistic detail. While most commentators admit that his novels are fascinating and hold some relevance for the contemporary lay-person, they fault Erdman for stereotyped characterization and far-fetched plots.

Beginning with his first novel, The Billion Dollar Sure Thing, Erdman moved to the forefront of the relatively new genre of fi-fi, or finance fiction. Skillful at selecting the commodities which inspire greed and corruption on a global scale, Erdman centered this first thriller around the collapse of the gold market. The plots of his next two books, The Silver Bears and The Crash of '79, concern the manipulation of silver prices and the oil crisis, respectively. In his recent novel, The Last Days of America, Erdman gives readers a glimpse of sinister dealings within computerized corporate America and creates an apocalyptic scenario for the rise of Germany.

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 61-64).

Alfred L. Malabre, Jr.

One of the troubles with most novels that attempt to treat financial topics is that the people who write them are normally novelists only, rather than novelists-and-financiers, and consequently often don't have much inside understanding of the characters and situations that inevitably arise. This is an unfortunate fact, inasmuch as the world of high—and low—finance should provide fascinating grist for a novel. All too rarely, it does.

This paucity, we are happy to report, has been at least temporarily remedied, for we have a new novel titled "The Billion Dollar Sure Thing" from Paul E. Erdman, a man who, however briefly, was in fact a financial insider as well, later, as an insider at a Swiss prison after the Swiss-based bank that he headed failed amid charges of illegal activities at the bank….

Not only does he know banking, particularly the highly secretive Swiss variety, but Mr. Erdman also knows reasonably well how to write in a suspenseful, readable fashion. No work of art, certainly, "The Billion Dollar Sure Thing" is nonetheless an absorbing bit of fancy that imagines a situation (is it really that fanciful?) where the President of the U.S. secretly decides to increase the official price of gold to $125 per ounce, roughly triple today's actual official level.

The secret, of course, gets into the wrong hands—a gnomish Swiss banker, a mischievous Russian, a Mafia-linked wheeler-dealer...

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Newgate Callendar

"The Billion Dollar Sure Thing" is an exciting novel despite itself. It is not particularly well written. It is loosely organized, and it stops here and there for long-winded explanations of the methods of the gnomes of Zurich and their cousins in Basel. But the concept of the book is tremendous—a Russian raid on the dollar, the manipulations of a sharp American operator all set to make a killing, the theft of a top secret document concerning plans for devaluation and a shift in the price of gold. All that, and a surprise at the end. Or to those who know something about the big-money boys, perhaps not so much of a surprise. Can these things really be? Erdman makes it plentifully clear they can.

Newgate Callendar, "Criminals at Large," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1973 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), August 5, 1973, p. 10.∗

R. Z. Sheppard

Although [Paul Erdman] is not the James Joyce of high finance, he is not Jacqueline Susann either. His plots and characters tend to be simple, but he combines a zest for the intricate poetry of the big deal with the ability and cheerful willingness to explain it. His first novel, the bestselling The Billion Dollar Sure Thing, straightened out the mysterious alchemy of the international gold market….

The Silver Bears deals in a baser metal, but it is just as entertaining and instructive as the first novel. Although names and places have been somewhat altered, the plot is built on the manic-depressive 1968 fluctuations in the price of silver….

Although Erdman does not neglect characterization and the mechanics of storytelling, he is more intent on delivering cold truths. Mainly, that whatever speculators were hearing about the future of silver in 1969, it was largely piped misinformation from a handful of super-sophisticated con men. In his novel, the lords of both the underworld and overworld put aside hurt pride to concentrate on profit by colluding to rig the market. All those dentists, airline pilots and what Erdman gleefully calls "greedy widows" who invested in silver futures never stood a chance. The odds of beating the professionals were about the same as a man in a wheelchair getting a football through the Miami Dolphins' defense.

R. Z. Sheppard, "The Stung," in Time (copyright 1974 Time Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission from Time), Vol. 104, No. 5, July 29, 1974, p. 65.

Newgate Callendar

In Erdman's world, everybody is a wolf. There are big wolves and little wolves, all motivated by one thing only: the pursuit of money—big, big money, of course. Where "The Silver Bears" differs from "The Billion Dollar Sure Thing" is in its more relaxed manner…. Erdman can be quite funny, in a self-deprecating manner, about the money urge, and "The Silver Bears" has a few hilarious episodes about financial manipulation and the slavering greed of top financiers.

His relative inexperience as a novelist leads Erdman into one or two dull patches where, not knowing exactly how to weave explanations about high-level financial skullduggery into the action, he pauses to let a character run on like a lecturer at an investment seminar. This does not happen very often, however; and Erdman, who does have a ingenious mind, fulfills his duty as a novelist by keeping interest sustained and by giving the ending a double twist that satisfies the novelistic proprieties as well as the inner man.

Newgate Callendar, "Criminals at Large," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1974 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), August 18, 1974, p. 23.∗

Eric Pace

This slam-bang novel of international finance and scheming ["The Crash of '79"] is largely about greed.

And why not? The author, Paul E. Erdman, is a former international financier and therefore knows the subject intimately. Most of the rest of us may lack his expertise, but we enjoy reading about covetousness—at least the successful practice of covetousness—the way we like reading about more graphic sins. And Erdman eases any guilt we might feel at this pleasure by providing a finale that shows how greed leads to truly dreadful things.

Erdman piles on a lot of factual-seeming detail about international banking, Mideast potentates and so forth. This technique creates some odd technical problems as the book canters along, through world crises and nuclear war scares. Erdman is highly skilled at creating fictive worlds of intrigue and high finance for the lay reader, as he proved with his first two best sellers…. But in "The Crash of '79" this process of creation involves describing what seems like an awful lot of executive meetings. The reader—this reader anyhow—begins to feel saddle-sore from sitting in on so many meetings—even rousing dramatic ones.

Which brings us to other points. One of the difficulties involved in lacing a novel with current factual material is that the material can get out of date fast. (p. 6)

Instances of [outdated information] suggest that Erdman belongs to the school of thought that holds that what matters in writing commercial action-adventure novels is not factual accuracy but only the semblance of accuracy….

Nonetheless I have no doubt that this Erdman novel, like its two predecessors, will be read with gusto by the Western wheelers and dealers I see hanging out in the lobbies of fancy Persian Gulf hotels. It's a fine read for those who dig the genre. (p. 71)

Eric Pace, "About International Finance, a.k.a. Greed," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1976 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 14, 1976, pp. 6, 71.

T. J. Binyon

Bill Hitchcock, [the narrator of The Crash of '79 and the] sometime chief financial adviser to the Saudi Arabian government, relates the series of events leading up to the great crash of 1979, when the whole economy of the Western world collapses in ruins, a catastrophe brought about by a fatal combination of European weakness, American inefficiency, Iranian aggressiveness, Israeli self-delusion and Swiss greed. The scenario is dolefully convincing: its natural reader would be the confirmed pessimist who always turns first to the financial section of his daily paper…. Paul E. Erdman has impressive qualifications as an economist, and the financial detail is correspondingly dense and realistic. Indeed, the...

(The entire section is 202 words.)

Charles Wheeler

In [The Last Days of America], Paul Erdman returns to the theme of an earlier book. The Crash of '79: the decline of America's will to lead the West and the opportunities this presents to its more irresponsible allies to take the world to the brink of disaster….

Mr Erdman's new book takes us into the later 1980s….

West Germany, feeling uniquely vulnerable to Russian attack, has overcome its national guilt complex and is reverting to type. Willi Brandt and Helmut Schmidt have been discarded. The new saviour is the Bavarian conservative, Franz Joseph Strauss, who, in a comeback as unexpected as Richard Nixon's resurgence in 1968, has been swept into the...

(The entire section is 388 words.)

Michael M. Thomas

In 1976, The Crash of '79 established Paul Erdman as a "brand name" author. He quickly became the leading practitioner of "fi-fi" (financial fiction), a genre that has proliferated like money-market funds as big bucks have come to be an important subject for writers, if not a subject for important writers. The novel's apocalyptic title and awesome topicality overshadowed certain deficiencies that appear to have become incidental to the manufacture of best-selling novels: characterization, language, atmosphere, style. The book was a great popular success; parts of the business community hailed it as a fifth gospel.

The title of Erdman's new novel, The Last Days of America, also...

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Robert Lekachman

In "The Last Days of America" Paul Erdman's exposition is sloppy, careless and ungrammatical. No human voice could conceivably speak his dialogue. It could be composed only by someone immune to the rhythms of ordinary utterance. The hero is in the missile business. He indulges himself in large scale commercial bribery, engages in an episode of breaking and entering, kills a couple of people in passing, and, least forgivable of all, bores anyone who unwisely keeps track of his misadventures to the edge of coma.

Robert Lekachman, "Foreign Settings and Domestic Scenes," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1981 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), August...

(The entire section is 110 words.)