People are complicated. What we want, what we need, changes minute to minute, hour to hour, and day to day.
And that’s a very fine thing indeed.
Imagine if we ticked a box and that was it.
Hungry? Eat a banana. Job done. Life’s purpose fulfilled. Boring.
Thankfully, we’re more multi-faceted than that. Over the years, various theories have been put forward about human wants and needs. The most famous is Maslow’s Hierarchy.
Maslow divided up our needs into five groups:
- Physiological needs – sleep, food, water, and warmth. The very basic building blocks of Not Being Dead.
- Safety needs – safety and security. You’ve got food, now you’ve got to avoid becoming food.
- Belonging & love – friends and relationships. The human as a social creature.
- Esteem needs – pride and accomplishment.
- Self-actualisation – fulfilling our potential
The pyramid part comes in because we have to focus on the basics before our aspirations can change. Think of it like building blocks. Without safety sorted, we’re not too worried about belonging. We don’t worry about writing a novel if we need to eat. Love doesn’t matter if a grizzly bear is chasing us. Friends don’t matter if we’re dying of thirst.
Even this theory oversimplifies the complexities of life. It has to. It’s just a framework, one we could spend many many blog posts dissecting. I’ll leave that for someone else – I’m just a crime writer, not a sociologist.
But what fascinates me about this is how fluid it all is, how quickly life can change.
Have you ever seen the film Trading Places?
Dan Akroyd plays a rich stockbroker. Eddie Murphy plays a homeless crook. As part of a cruel game among Akroyd’s millionaire bosses, the two find their fates switched. In an instant, Akroyd’s character is fighting homelessness while Murphy ascends to the wealthy elite.
It’s a brilliant film. If you haven’t watched it, please do.
Then come back here ‘cause I’m not done!
I wanted to write a crime novel with this sort of premise but rather than rely on a cruel puppet master, I wanted to ground my book in a more garden-variety fraud: the classic Ponzi scheme. This con is as old as time: promise people insane returns, use money from new investors to pay old investors. It works so long as you’ve got an ever-growing number of schmucks to steal from.
Enter Kent Bancroft.
He’s a market-maker, the guy who buys and sells shares. The specifics don’t really matter. His firm is failing so he starts stealing from new investors to pay off older investors. He’s stealing from everyone who invests with him: banks, pension funds, and, of course, individuals. It’s a basic Ponzi scheme with a modern twist.
One of those he’s conned is a man who suffered a horrendous accident at work. He got electrocuted, lost his leg, and the construction firm he worked for gave him a payoff: £500,000. It should have been enough to get him through to retirement.
Except, he had the misfortune of investing it with Kent.
And he loses it all.
He ends up homeless, friendless, and penniless, begging outside Kent’s swanky offices in the City.
This is where The Grifter begins. We’ve got two men, one struggling to keep his con going, the other struggling to eat. They’re at opposite ends of the Pyramid.
Kent is concerned with status. He wants to be known as the richest, most successful man in London. The last thing he expects is a homeless man coming after him for everything. Not just his money, but his reputation, his security, even his sanity.
Think “Trading Places” meets “Bernie Madoff”. That’s The Grifter in a nutshell.
I can’t say much more otherwise I’m going to spoil the story for you, but if you want to see how this plays out, check out The Grifter on Amazon. It’s out on 15th August and there’s an early-bird pre-order price that can’t be beaten.
If you can’t wait ‘til then, I’ll be giving away review copies next month. Email me if you’re a blogger/ reviewer.