Futures by John Barker [Book review]

Futures is set in the London of 1987, in one way a different world from now, one where mobile phones aren’t everywhere and the Gulf War is going on between Iran and Iraq. But it’s also the start of our world: deregulated markets, the powerful with more money than sense and everyone without trying to keep their heads above water.

One of whom is Carol, a small-time cocaine dealer who thinks one big deal could be enough to get her out of the business. One of her customers is Phil, a financial analyst who dreams, with his friend Jack, of setting up a futures market for cocaine. Her supply comes through Gordon Murry, gangster businessman. Their worlds collide as the stock market collapses and the great storm batters London.

The novel is narrated over the shoulder of each character, slotting the plot together piece by piece. The exception is Gordon Murray, who narrates his own parts which fits: he’s big on rules, but only ones he’s written himself. He is given a nice turn of phrase, though:

I poured him a scotch and came on with the soda siphon. That’s what Keith calls a rhetorical gesture. The Super shook his head like he was some Scottish peasant living on oats and a dram.” (p166)

All the characters are believable, not one-dimensional types, which makes for a gripping story. Barker shows the interconnections between the worlds of illegal and legitimate business. He also shows how one resembles the other: diversification and self-justification all round. Radical crime fiction is inevitably interested in power. Barker’s not taken in by self interest dressed up a science, but presses on to look at how capitalism works rather than the “flim-flam” that’s trotted out to justify it. You even get a bonus article on the economics of cocaine!

Futures is a magnificent piece of work: gripping plot and sharp writing coming from a brain that’s switched on and humane. Read it!

Futures by John Barker. Published by PM Press, 2014. ISBN 9781604869613 $17.95 / £9.99