On a stormy London morning, a man and woman board a private plane bound for Geneva. Shortly after takeoff, the plane disappears from radar. Wreckage of the craft is found in the Alps. Annabel Lerner is informed that her husband, Matthew, an American working as a private banker at Swiss United in Geneva, was killed in the crash. Devastated, Annabel is left to unravel the secrets Matthew left behind. His encrypted laptop and client list remain in their apartment. As Annabel begins a desperate search for answers, she realizes that Matthew’s death was no accident and his powerful enemies want to secure the information he left behind, as well as her silence.
Back in the U.S., Marina Tourneau is about to trade her career as a journalist reporting on America’s rich and famous for marriage to Grant Ellis, whose father, James, is about to announce his candidacy for President. But her mentor and friend, Duncan Sander, is found murdered in his home and Marina does not believe that he was the victim of a robbery gone wrong. Duncan had been working on a big story for quite some time. He was determined to track down Morthy Reiss, convinced that Reiss fakes his own suicide and absconded with the proceeds from the Ponzi scheme that Reiss disguised as a hedge fund. When Marina receives inside information from a whistle blower, she is determined to complete the story — for Duncan and to learn the truth. While following the trail of money straight to Swiss United, Marina finds evidence implicating some of the most powerful players in the international world of finance, business, and government.
The Banker’s Wife is a high-stakes thriller offering a glimpse into the shady underbelly of international finance.
The Banker’s Wife is an intense portrait of two women, each of whom has become entangled in the murky world of offshore banking and money laundering — and, as a result, finds herself in grave danger.
Annabel Werner is informed that her beloved husband, Matthew, perished along with a female client. But Matthew was supposed to be in Zurich, not London. And she had never heard of Fatima Amir, the other passenger on the ill-fated flight. Amir, the owner of the plane, operated a hedge fund, but was part of a powerful family known for its dealings with terrorists. Immediately, Annabel is skeptical about both the information she is provided concerning Matthew’s and the Fedpol officer delivering it. Annabel gave up her own career in the art world to move with Matthew to Geneva for a fresh start following tragedy and disappointment, and so that Matthew could enjoy a successful, lucrative career with Swiss United. Annabel is devastated by Matthew’s sudden death, but there is no time for mourning when she realizes that he left behind his encrypted laptop, details about client identities and transactions, and his assistant, Zoe, convinces her that she is not safe. Annabel soon discovers that she was not, in fact, provided truthful information about the plane crash and she has to unravel the mystery of why Matthew was really on that flight in order to survive.
Meanwhile, Marina is committed to completing one last story and knows it stands to be the biggest of her — or Duncan’s — career. When she receives information from a mysterious source while vacationing in Paris, she knows she has to get the data back to the United States where she can enlist her friend and fellow writer, Owen, to help her analyze the data and write the story. Marina appreciates the scope of the story she is about to break when the courier advises her that thirty-two trillion dollars is stored in offshore accounts. “More than the GDP of the U.S. and Japan combined.” Marina also quickly discovers that, like Annabel, her life is at stake. The list of Swiss United’s clients includes some of the most influential, powerful, and wealthy people in the world, some of whom Marina is very closely associated with. As her suspicions are gradually confirmed, the danger is heightened, but she is determined that the story will be published no matter the consequences for all involved.
There’s a whole world offshore, Ms. Tourneau. A world of dirty money, hidden away in shadow accounts, and it belongs to some very powerful and dangerous people. Imagine if you could see their bank balances. Their transactions. Their network. I’m talking about cartel kings. Terrorists. World leaders. Even people you know, people you went to school with, people who live across the street.”
Author Christina Alger was a financial analyst and corporate attorney before she turned to writing, and The Banker’s Wife is a thriller with an air of authenticity that never strains credulity. Alger’s stories of Annabel and Marina are interconnected and interwoven, even though the characters are not acquainted. But unwittingly, they both find themselves immersed in a tangled web of power, finance, and illegal schemes to avoid taxes. And both of them must be exceedingly inventive and investigative expeditiously in order for the truth to come to light. For both of them, as well as Zoe, their very lives depend upon their ingenuity and deductive reasoning. The result is a tense, intricately constructed tale featuring strong, resilient, and tenacious female protagonists. Alger crafts a compelling tale about the corruption of power and wealth, and the lengths to which the wealthy and powerful will go in order to protect their status. The book’s pace never lags, careening with increasing speed and urgency to a shocking, but emotionally satisfying conclusion.
Excerpt from The Banker’s Wife
Marina stood on the balcony of her suite at Le Meurice and looked out at the glistening lights of Paris. The view was spectacular, particularly at night. To the west, the Eiffel Tower and Roue de Paris stood illuminated against the night sky. Across the rue de Rivoli, les Jardin des Tuileries glowed, as if lit from within. Marina considered waking up her fiancŽ, Grant, so he could enjoy the view with her. But there would be time for that. Their trip had just begun. Instead, Marina sat down at the table. She sparked a cigarette, inhaled. It felt good to have no work to do, no functions to attend, no emails begging response. She could read a book. She could do her nails. She could do nothing at all. The night was hers. Here in Paris, it was just beginning.
Her phone rang, jarring her. Marina felt a prick of irritation when she saw who was calling.
“Duncan,” she said, her voice curt. “It’s past midnight here.”
“Were you sleeping?”
“I didn’t think so. You’re still on New York time. You don’t sleep, anyway.”
“That doesn’t mean you’re allowed to call me during my first vacation in almost ten years.”
“I need you to do something for me.”
Marina cringed. This was exactly the reason that Grant wanted her to leave Press magazine. In the near decade she’d worked for Duncan, she’d never once taken a vacation. She worked most weekends, countless holidays. She answered her phone at all hours of the night. She had begun her career as Duncan’s assistant. Now, nine and a half years later, despite her senior status on the magazine masthead, he still occasionally treated her as such. Twenty-four hours into this trip, and already, he was tasking her with something. It was unbelievable, really, though not entirely surprising.
Marina intended to quit. She’d promised Grant she would, right after the wedding. The rumors that Grant’s father, James Ellis, was going to run for president were true. The campaign would move into high gear in a matter of weeks. He had already assembled a team of campaign advisors and publicists. He would need it. A hotheaded billionaire from New York, he wasn’t exactly the people’s candidate. But once the spin doctors had done their magic, James Ellis would be transformed into a hardworking success story, a professional deal maker, a fresh alternative to the presumed Democratic nominee-and consummate DC insider-Senator Hayden Murphy. Murphy, who had been dogged for years by rumors of corruption and cronyism, was a formidable but flawed candidate. Ellis knew this; he was banking on it.
Quietly, Marina had her doubts that her future father-in-law was fit to be the leader of the free world. She’d seen him lose his temper at the smallest of errors: at a new housekeeper who stocked the wrong kind of bottled water at the Southampton house, for example, or at a driver who missed the turnoff for Teterboro Airport-but she also knew that Grant was a calming influence on his father. Grant would resign from his investment banking job and take over the family business while his father was out on the campaign trail. In his new capacity as president of Ellis Enterprises, Grant would travel constantly, and he would expect Marina to accompany him. There were things one had to do as the wife of a CEO of a multinational corporation. Not to mention the wife of the president’s son, should it come to that. She couldn’t work and be Mrs. Grant Ellis. At least, not at the same time. There was no question what was more important to her. She had to quit. That was part of the deal, and on some level, she’d always known it.
For a moment, Marina considered quitting right then, over the phone. It was justified, certainly. People at Press quit all the time. Duncan was a famously difficult editor in chief, and he paid his staff below the paltry industry standard. But it didn’t feel right. After everything Duncan had done for her-and everything they’d done together-she wanted to resign the right way: in person, at a time that made sense not just for her, but for the magazine, too.
“You’re unbelievable,” Marina said. She stubbed out her cigarette and slipped back inside to find a pencil. “Aren’t you supposed to be on a sabbatical?”
Duncan didn’t answer the question. The topic of his sabbatical was a sore one. It was not something he had agreed to voluntarily. Rather, it was mandated by Philip Brancusi, the CEO of Press’s parent company, who insisted that Duncan use the six weeks to dry out, once and for all. The drinking had become a problem, and everyone in publishing knew it. Everyone except Duncan himself.
“Are you writing this down?” he said.
“Of course I am.”
“I need you to meet someone. He’s coming from Luxembourg to meet with you, and I don’t know how long he’ll be free, so make yourself available. He’s going to give you a USB to bring to me. Be very careful with it. And tell no one.”
“What am I supposed to say to Grant?”
“Tell him you’re going for a run. Or you need to meet an old friend. He’s a big boy. He’ll survive without you for forty-five minutes.” Duncan sounded irritated, which irritated Marina. She scribbled the information so furiously on a hotel notepad that the tip of her pencil snapped.
“Damn it,” she muttered, and reached for a pen.
“Look, I know you’re frustrated,” Duncan said. “I know what I’m asking is annoying. But it’s important, Marina. This material is highly sensitive. My source doesn’t trust email, even encrypted email. He wants to hand over the data directly. I was going to fly to Geneva last week to meet him myself, but I believe I’m being followed.”
Marina stifled an eyeroll. “By who?”
Duncan ignored her. “I told him you’re the only person I trust.”
“Stop buttering me up, Duncan. I suppose I don’t get to know what this is about?”
Duncan paused. In the background, Marina could hear what sounded like a snowplow. She wondered if Duncan was out of the city, holed up at his weekend house, where he was beginning to spend more and more of his time. She worried about him out there. He drank too much and socialized too little. When Duncan drank, he became dramatic and paranoid. When he got dramatic and paranoid, he usually called Marina.
“We’ll talk when you’re back,” he said. “But, Marina . . . this is it. After all these years, I think we finally found him.”
Marina stopped writing. “Him?”
“Very much so.”
Marina paused, absorbing the enormity of what Duncan was saying. It had been eight years since Morty Reiss’s suicide. Almost to the day. Or rather, it had been eight years since Morty Reiss’s car was found on the Tappan Zee Bridge, a suicide note taped to the windshield. Days after his alleged suicide, Morty’s hedge fund, RCM, was uncovered as one of the largest Ponzi schemes of all time. Reiss saw the writing on the wall and jumped, or so the story went. His body, however, was never found. At the beginning, Marina and Duncan harbored the same suspicion as many: that Reiss faked his own death and disappeared with his ill-gotten gains to some sun-washed country without an extradition treaty. Of all the people Marina had written stories about during her tenure at Press magazine, Reiss was perhaps the smartest, most ruthless con man she’d ever come across. Given that Marina wrote about New York society figures-Wall Street tycoons, real estate magnates, fashion designers, publicists-that was saying a lot. If anyone was smart enough to disappear along with his money, it was Reiss.
Reiss was brilliant-as brilliant as they come-but eventually all Ponzi schemes necessarily come to an end, and that was the one thing that had always niggled at Marina about the RCM story. Insider trading, embezzlement: anyone could get away with these crimes if they were clever enough. Just steal the money and ride off into the sunset. But Ponzi schemes require an unending supply of investors. Without new investors, the whole scheme collapses like a house of cards. So why would Reiss opt into a crime with no end? He seemed too smart for that. That is, unless he’d planned on faking his death all along.
If that was the case, Marina had to hand it to him: Reiss was potentially the most cunning financial criminal of all time.
As the years passed with no news or trace of Reiss, however, Marina’s disbelief faded slowly into acceptance. Was it really possible for a man like Reiss-whose face flashed across television screens worldwide for months on end-to disappear? Marina didn’t think so. It seemed too far-fetched-fantastical, even. A Hollywood plotline instead of a real news story. Reiss was smart, but he was also human. Perhaps his greed or hubris did end up getting the better of him, she thought.
While Marina’s interest with Morty Reiss waned, Duncan Sander’s blossomed into a full-blown obsession. After he and Marina cowrote the original exposŽ of RCM, Duncan went on to pen several more pieces about Reiss and his coconspirator, Carter Darling. His theories about Reiss’s whereabouts became outlandish and unsubstantiated, and Marina feared that Duncan’s fixation had irreparably damaged his reputation as a serious journalist. Six months ago, it had almost cost him his career. On a morning talk show, Duncan claimed Reiss had hundreds of millions stashed in an account at Caribbean International Bank in the Cayman Islands. US authorities looked the other way, Duncan claimed, because a ring of high-profile politicians, who also happened to have millions stashed away in numbered accounts, were protecting the bank. The interview caused a sensation, not only because of what Duncan said, but how he said it. His slurred speech and sweaty, unkempt appearance did not go unnoticed by viewers. Soon, there were rumors that Duncan Sander was headed for a public meltdown. Caribbean International Bank threatened to sue not only Duncan, but Press and its parent company, Merchant Publications. Under pressure from CEO Brancusi, Duncan issued a hasty retraction. Then he made a show of heading to a rehab facility in northern Connecticut, where he spent a few weeks drying out and nursing his ego. As far as Marina could tell, rehab hadn’t helped much with Duncan’s drinking. It bought him a reprieve at Press, however, and Duncan had returned to work a month later.
Now he was on his second attempt at rehab, and Marina knew it was the last chance with Brancusi. He had given Duncan an ultimatum: dry out for good and come back ready to work, or don’t come back at all. Duncan couldn’t afford another misstep. One more lapse in judgment, and Brancusi would have his head.
“Duncan, can you prove this? You’ll need to. We can’t have another-” Marina stopped short, not wanting to finish that sentence. Duncan did not like being reminded of the interview, or his drinking problem, or frankly any mistake he’d ever made, ever. They’d never spoken of it, except in the vaguest of references.
“I can, this time. He’s got more than seventy million at Swiss United.”
Marina wrote down Swiss United and underlined it. “Swiss United. So not at Caribbean International,” she said, trying not to sound skeptical.
“No, that’s the thing. It was there. I was right about that. And he moved it. Just before I gave that interview.”
“And you can prove this. You have account records and everything.”
“My source does. Marina, this is the story of our careers.”
Marina jumped when she felt a hand on her shoulder. Behind her stood Grant, looking sheepish.
“Hi,” he whispered. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“I’ve got to go,” Marina said to Duncan. “We’ll talk later.”
“Is Grant there?”
“Okay. I’ll call you tomorrow when I have the details about the drop.”
“Fine. Good night, Duncan.”
“Sorry,” Grant said, kissing Marina on the head as she put down the phone. “I heard your voice and hoped you were ordering room service. I’m starving.”
Marina laughed. “I wasn’t, but I can. What do you want?”
“Let’s look.” Grant reached over her and picked the room service menu off the desk.
“Who were you talking to?” he asked as he perused the menu.
“What did he want?”
Marina shrugged. “He’s working on a story. Wanted me to help.”
Grant put down the menu. “I hope you said no.”
“Of course I did.”
“Isn’t he supposed to be in rehab?”
“Whatever. It’s totally inappropriate for him to call you in the middle of the night during your vacation.”
“I think he was just excited about the story.”
Grant shook his head. “Don’t defend him. I hate the way he treats you. He has no boundaries, Marina.”
Marina sighed. “I know. He frustrates me, too. But you have to understand: Duncan is the reason I’m a journalist. When I started at Press, I honestly just wanted to work at a fashion magazine because I thought it sounded cool. I thought I’d go to great parties and try on couture clothes and meet interesting people. But Duncan saw something more in me. And he expected more from me. When we worked on the story about the Darlings, he treated me like his colleague instead of his twenty-two-year-old assistant. He really let me run with it. And when it was over, he listed me as his cowriter. So yes, he drives me insane sometimes. A lot of the time. But I also owe him my career. And for that I’ll always be grateful to him.”
Grant reached for Marina’s hand. They interlaced their fingers and smiled at each other. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m just protective of you.”
“And I think you’re very sweet.”
Grant cocked one eyebrow. “And sexy?”
“Is it sexy if I order myself a double bacon cheeseburger with fries now?”
“It won’t be here for at least thirty minutes. Care to join me in the bedroom while I wait for my midnight snack?”
“I’d be delighted. Order me fries, too, all right? I’m an only child. I don’t share well.”
“I don’t, either. So promise me something.”
“Anything.” Marina wrapped her arms around Grant’s neck and smiled up at him.
“Promise I won’t have to share you on this trip. It’s just a few days. I want us to unplug and enjoy each other.”
Marina nodded. “Mm-hmm,” she said. She reached up for a kiss. She felt Grant’s hands on her backside and suddenly she was in the air, her legs wrapped around his waist. “I promise,” she murmured, as he carried her back to the bedroom.
Copyright © 2018 by Cristina Alger. Excerpted from Penguin Group Putnam.