Spies, dodgy banks and Switzerland

Zurich's financial heartland features in Reich's Numbered Account Keystone

A banker is murdered right in the centre of the financial heartland of Zurich, a beautiful woman falls down a crevasse in the Swiss alps to her death...

This content was published on November 25, 2009 - 13:09

These are just some of the scenes from Swiss-American author Christopher Reich's books – tales of international espionage and financial shenanigans that are bestsellers in the United States.

One of his latest books, Rules of Deception, is being developed into a film by Paramount Pictures. Brad Pitt is up to play the hero.

The California-based author was recently in Zurich to talk about his books to mark the tenth anniversary of Orell Füssli The Bookshop, the city's English bookshop.

"My father is Swiss, and he emigrated to the US when he was 25 or 26 years old. So I have a Swiss passport, although I don't speak Swiss German as I should. I do speak French and I really do feel at home here," Reich told

Reich came to Switzerland on and off during his childhood and lived in the country for eight years from 1988-1995, working for a large Swiss bank, first in Geneva and then in Zurich.

He put his experiences to good use in his first book, Numbered Account, for which he landed a $750,000 (SFr757,000) publishing deal after giving up his job and setting himself a two-year deadline to write a novel.

Murder in Zurich

In the opening scene, a banker working for the United Swiss Bank (USB), is brutally murdered as he makes his way home on Christmas Eve – all the more shocking considering Switzerland's notoriously low crime rate.

Later the action switches to a meeting within the bank in which an official from the US Drugs Enforcement Administration addresses the employees about suspicious accounts. It is witnessed by the hero who wants to uncover the mystery of his Swiss father's death while working at the bank 17 years before.

"The spark for Numbered Account literally came from my second day on the job at the Union Bank of Switzerland in Geneva, so I owe a debt of gratitude to my time working in Swiss banking," said Reich, who witnessed a similar meeting.

The hero is then drawn into a tale of financial double dealings, involving a numbered account, whose owner's identity is only known to a few.

Switzerland features again in Rules of Deception, one of Reich's latest books, which is the first part of a series. For this novel, Reich has turned his attention away from the world of high finance to that of international espionage.

Graubünden mystery

This time the action starts in the mountains around Arosa in Graubünden in eastern Switzerland. Jonathan Ransom, who works for Doctors without Borders in Geneva, and his English wife Emma are climbing a peak.

A blizzard descends and there is a terrible accident and Emma is killed. A day later Ransom receives a letter that suggests that his wife may not be all that she seems to be.

"My father's family comes from Arosa, so growing up we would go skiing there every spring," Reich explained.

"They say the first rule of writing is to write about what you know, so I said I can envision Arosa perfectly in my head, so I will set the story there."

Later the fast-paced story moves on to Landquart, where our hero has to do battle with some baddies. This is probably the first time that the modest industrial town, whose main claim to fame is being an important railway junction to Chur and Davos, has featured in an international spy novel.

"We have to do something for poor Landquart! I pass there every time going through the valley and I needed a place so I thought it was the perfect location," Reich said.

Exotic locations, silver screen

The author's intimate knowledge of Switzerland is apparent in the books: characters tuck into local specialties like Basel leckerli biscuits and the Swiss fondness for orderliness and rules - like allocating laundry days to tenants - all come to the fore. The landscape and cities are portrayed in an authentic way.

He is not, of course, the first to set thrillers in Switzerland. Fictional character James Bond, who is half Swiss, has also chased villains over the mountains and uncovered dastardly plots in the country.

Reich said that American people in particular love exotic destinations in their novels and that he enjoyed taking them round beautiful Switzerland, especially to its forgotten corners.

And his fans may soon be able to enjoy these locations on the big screen. Rules of Deception is being developed as a film and already has a budget of $125 million, according to Reich.

"The script is right now out to Brad Pitt, who loves it, so we're trying to get him involved and we're just one step away. If you've read the book, you'll see it's a very big kind of expensive movie, and so we really need a big movie star," he said.

Sienna Miller is among the English actresses being considered for Emma Ransom. The idea is to make a series of films, based on the "Rules" series.

Romantic core

The next book, Rules of Vengeance, this time set in London, France and Italy, involves a car bombing of a Russian diplomat. Reich said that people enjoyed a continuing series with characters they can get to know.

"The real core of the story is this relationship between Jonathan and his wife, Emma, who he didn't know had a double life," Reich said.

"So what's fun, as these books progress, is how their relationship progresses, does she love him or does she not? Does he love her? Does she put him in peril?"

There's more in store. "Now I'm writing the third book, Rules of Betrayal, for which I can't give too much away, but let me say their relationship is as firey as ever."

Reich says he'll continue with the series as long as people want to keep reading it.

"The books have met with a great response which is very gratifying for me. But you know, when I sit down to write these books, I only try to write for myself the most exciting, the most involving and romantically inspiring book that I can."

Isobel Leybold-Johnson in Zurich,

Christopher Reich

Reich was born in Tokyo on November 12, 1961. His Swiss father ran a travel agency sending Japanese tourists to the United States. The family moved to Los Angeles in the United States in 1965.

He attended Georgetown University and business school at the University of Texas.

Reich then worked for UBS in Geneva and Zurich and later set up a small watch company, staying in Switzerland for eight years (1988-1995). He returned to the US to write a novel. After being recommended to an agent by author James Patterson, and rewritten several times, Numbered Account was snapped up and published. It stayed on the New York Times Bestseller List for six weeks, rising to number 9 and sold at least one million copies.

Since then he has written six other novels. He lives in California and is married with two children.

Books: Numbered Account (1998) , The Runner (2000), The First Billion (2002), The Devil's Banker (2003), The Patriots' Club (2004) - winner of the 2006 International Thriller Writers Award for best novel, Rules of Deception (2008), Rules of Vengeance (2009).

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Orell Füssli – The Bookshop

The bookshop selling English books has existed in its present form for 10 years and celebrated this anniversary with an author event with Christopher Reich on October 31.

Its clientele are expats, Swiss and other nationalities who love English and like to read books in the original language. It has around 200,000 customers per year (120,000 when it started out), its manager Sabine Haarmann told

Over the years, trends have changed. For the first 3 years the bookshop sold mostly fiction and crime and then, in the 3 years that followed, non-fiction became popular as well.

Doing well at the moment are "women's interest" (biographies, women's popular fiction) as a large part of the clientele are women, as in many other bookshops. Also popular are young adult titles, such as Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series, which appeal to former Harry Potter readers, said Haarmann.

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