Cristina Alger adds another best-selling book to her repertoire with the release of The Banker's Wife, a thrilling story of two women searching for answers in a world of dark money after the people closest to them vanish. She chatted with us about how her new book serves as a powerful critique of corruption, as well as the recent news that The Banker's Wife would be turned into a TV series with Rosamund Pike as its lead.
I imagine it has been quite an amazing summer for you with the release of your latest book and the news that it would be turned into a TV series with Rosamund Pike, no?
CRISTINA ALGER: I’ve been really excited about it. It’s going to be a limited series. I’m not sure how many episodes, but yes, it’s going to be a limited series. We actually sold the rights to the production team, EP Federation, before it came out, so we’ve been working on this since last winter, but it’s been really exciting. Sherry Marsh and Ashley Stern, who are the producers that bought it, had a very specific and grand vision for it and it’s very exciting to watch it come to life.
Our loftiest goal was for it to be an all-female creative team and we’ve managed to do that so far. So they’re first choice was to have a writer and an actress attached and now we’ve attached writer Meredith Stiehm, who is the writer for Homeland and Cold Case and The Bridge. And she brought in Leslie Glatter, who was the director of Homeland and they worked together on Homeland and separately, Rosamund Pike was very interested in playing Annabel. So she’s attached herself as well and so now we’re going to go out to market with it. But it’s just sort of an all-star team and I’m overwhelmed by how incredible everyone is. I suppose the next step is to get a network to take us on and then we’ll move to start filming.
The central characters of the book are also all female. Was that by choice?
CA: Yeah, it’s funny. It was sort of the reason Sherry and Ashley were so interested in the project. So it’s important to all of us and it was important for me when I was writing the book because I’m a huge thriller reader. It’s sort of my got-to genre and I’ve found in recent years that there’ve sort of been two categories of thrillers. There’s sort of the classic thrillers and those are the ones I tend to read, like Nelson Demille and John Grisham and Lee Child and those tend to almost exclusively have male protagonists that are very kind of macho and heroic and doing macho and heroic things. And in the last, I’d say, decade there’s been a whole sub-genre of domestic thrillers that have flooded the market. The success of The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl have sort of spawned this sub-genre and those books all almost exclusively have women as protagonists but they’re sort of anti-heroes or anti-heroines, I guess. They’re often very damaged, kind of weak, manipulated or manipulative characters. And I found it sort of depressing to read about those women over and over again. And so I wanted to write kind of a classic but that has a female protagonist, which is something that I wanted to read and I didn’t see in the marketplace. And so I started writing this book and I wasn’t sure if I wanted it to be from the perspective of a journalist who’s investigating the story or from someone who is sort of closer into the story, so I ended up writing it with two female protagonists, which was kind of fun.
I also found the book to be a powerful critique of dark money and power. Would you agree with that?
CA: Oh, yes! When the story started unfolding—when I started writing the book, I should say, we were sort of heading into the election and I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop and someone to say, okay there is a lot of speculation about whether or not Trump has connection to Russia and Russian oligarchs and I sort of was waiting for the eureka moment where someone came out and revealed his offshore accounts somewhere, but it never really happened and I was sort of fascinated by that. That’s why there’s a character in the book who’s running for president and may or may not have offshore accounts. When I was writing I kept thinking this is so timely right now because we’re heading into this election, but it continues to be timely I think. You know, the story hasn’t gone away. So, I think offshore banking is really fascinating and its relationship with politics can be explored more and should be explored more.
Is it a surprise then that there hasn't been a further exploration of that aside from something like the Panama Papers?
CA: Absolutely. It is surprising for me and I think that the Panama Papers were and continue to be an amazing breakthrough in terms of the size and breadth of that data leak. And one of the things that I really wanted to do in this book was to make the heroine of the story be a journalist because I felt like, especially in the current political climate, I think there’s so much talk about fake news and criticism of journalists for not telling the truth. I think there are a lot of journalists doing very, very brave work and in the case of the Panama Papers they were literally putting their lives on the line to get this story out there and so I wanted to highlight journalists like that. But, no, I’m still surprised that there’s so much noise around relationships between members of the administration and Russia and others and there hasn’t been anyone who’s come forward with information about offshore accounts. I mean, it’s starting to leak out a little bit, but it seems to me like we’re still waiting, that there’s more there to be explored. So I’m surprised that there hasn’t been more, but one of the things I realized when I was researching this book is how secretive that world is. You know, the offshore banking world is really, really closed off and it’s very hard unless you have a source from inside the bank or the law firm that’s servicing these accounts to make any headway on those stories. That’s part of what makes it fascinating but also scary.
What I found quite helpful throughout the book, was how you explained all these different facets of dark money in a palatable way. And I say that because there’s not a great understanding of what exactly dark money is or the ways in which people engage it.
CA: Yeah, absolutely. Honestly, even after I worked in finance for many years, I still didn’t understand how the mechanisms for these things worked. I spent a lot of time researching it, but I also wanted to lay it out in the book in a way that made it understandable and readable while also not talking down to the reader. I do it because it’s really interesting. And once you learn how these things work mechanically, the data leak that happened in real life, the Panama Papers, becomes so interesting. That was really important for me to do. I heard so many people say to me, “You know, I was a little bit scared to start your book because I thought the finance part would be heavy or boring, but it wasn’t.” So I keep trying to convince people that finance isn’t as dull as it sounds, but I do lay reminders throughout the book.
One of the reasons I also liked having a journalist be the protagonist is because the journalist is kind of learning alongside the reader. They’re not an insider. So she’s figuring all this stuff out, and it would make sense that the reader would figure things out alongside her, which is a nice way to ease into this very complicated world. But at the end of the day, I think the finance stuff is really just background and it’s really a story about family and loyalty and politics and everything else thrillers are about at the end of the day.
Have you already started working on the next book?
CA: Yes! I’ve actually sold the next book and it’s supposed to come out next summer, although I’m not sure I’m going to make the deadline for that. The show taking off in the middle of it has been a little distracting. But yes, it’s called Snowbird and it’s a thriller about a series of murders that take place on Long Island and I’ve been working on it for the past six months or so, so hopefully it’ll be coming out soon from Putnam also.
Photography by: Photography courtesy Deborah Feingold