The Dead Bank Diary by Anna Shlegel is an intense, true to life (maybe true!) look at the bank fraudsters of Russia in the 00s, at a point in history where the police and government of Moscow were deeply corrupt, and old money and new oligarchs were investing their riches in “pocket banks,” small private holdings run by provincial managers – this meant that banks could be bankrupted by one transaction from their richest customer, and bought out on debts from anyone else in a few hours, even people that had no real money, just by a little bit of trading and paperwork. These trades to create “dead banks” are chronicled in Shlegel’s book.
The story follows a middleman, Ann, a woman willing almost to do anything to get her hands on the millions of rubles flowing through Russia at this time in history. Although dirt poor, and no longer in financial trading, she is a maverick in her cold flat receiving faxes that contain data that might lead to a break, that might lead to her winning a fortune by committing fraud on a bank somewhere.
The cold, hardcore life of Moscow before the new Millennium is here in snow-clad detail. The people are just as hard and cold too. They have no qualms about turning each other out, or even resorting to violence. There’s no lines drawn for grace here: although Anna is a woman, men treat her like a man, except for also treating her like a convenient sex toy, which she agrees to if it means furthering her scheme.She doesn’t like commitment, and like an addict, she’s chasing her next hit, and she’s given up long ago on having a serious boyfriend or a family. Instead, she chases thin air, wandering through Moscow hoping for a lead to chase her next job.
The men in this book are ugly bastards, hunters ready to cut anyone off who gets in the way. These men are the men Ann has to deal with every day, and she’s part of their scene. Other women don’t register to her. She can only think of the money; unfortunately for her, she’s losing every opportunity for a nice quiet life without even realizing, despite her poking fun at finance professionals who live safe with kids and partners, she’s worn out from this life she’s chosen, and she could do with exactly that for herself.
The book is written in a very unusual way. The Russian accent of Shlegel’s writing has been left intact on translation, which adds to the flavor we get of Moscow’s scum traders. This is like The Wolf of Wall Street on ice. The fact it’s written by a woman will really pull you in, and the scams they pull are incredibly interesting. Shlegel intends to write a series of these adventures, and while she sidesteps whether they are true, you can’t help feeling she’s written with experience and passion for this subject, and the book is all the more original and entertaining for exactly that reason.