Not too many mystery writers can claim to have created a whole new sub-genre, but according to his obituary in yesterday’s New York Times, that’s what Paul Erdman did. Mr. Erdman died on Monday, April 23rd, on his ranch in California at the age of 74.

   If I were to list the books to his credit, as supplied by Allen J. Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV, and give you a hint: “fi-fi,” I think perhaps you may be able to work it out. (In all truthfulness, “fi-fi” is not a term I had seen used myself until yesterday.)

ERDMAN, PAUL E(mil) (1932-2007)
      * The Billion Dollar Killing (n.) Hutchinson 1973 [Switzerland] U.S. title: The Billion Dollar Sure Thing.
      * The Billion Dollar Sure Thing (n.) Scribner 1973; See: The Billion Dollar Killing.
      * The Silver Bears (n.) Hutchinson 1974. Scribner, 1974. Film: EMI, 1977 (scw: Peter Stone; dir: Ivan Passer).
      * The Crash of ’79 (n.) Secker 1976. Simon, 1977. [Middle East].

Crash of 79

      * The Last Days of America (n.) Secker 1981. Simon, 1981. [Switzerland; 1985]
      * The Panic of ’89 (n.) Deutsch 1986. Doubleday, 1987. [1988]
      * The Palace (n.) Deutsch 1987. Doubleday, 1988. [New Jersey]
      * The Swiss Account (n.) Deutsch 1991. Tor, 1992. [Switzerland; 1945]
      * Zero Coupon (n.) Macmillan 1994. Forge, 1993. [San Francisco, CA]
      * The Set-Up (n.) St. Martin’s 1997. Macmillan (London), 1997. [Switzerland]

   The earliest reference found to “fi-fi” after a quick search on Google was in the opening paragraph of a 1992 review of The Swiss Account:

   “No one ever accused Paul Erdman of being neutral about the Swiss. After all, they put him in jail while they were investigating his bank, inadvertently starting him on a career as a best-selling writer of financial thrillers, or fi-fi, as someone once tagged the genre that has earned him millions.”

   In the second paragraph of this review written by Lawrence Malkin for the International Herald Tribune, he goes on to say:

   “His latest book is an attempt to settle accounts with the Swiss, who tried to block publication of his 1959 doctoral thesis at the University of Basel because it uncovered part of the story of Swiss banks and their Nazi clients.”

    “Fi-fi” refers to financial fiction, of course, and if Mr. Erdman didn’t invent the genre, he was certainly the one who popularized it. Published in the US as The Billion Dollar Sure Thing, his first book won an Edgar from the Mystery Writers of America in 1974 for Best First Novel.


   The story is true. Paul Erdman was in a Swiss jail when he wrote that first book. After a bank he established had collapsed in 1970, incurring a loss of tens of millions of dollars, he spent eight months in prison, posted bail, moved to the US and after being convicted in absentia, never returned to Switzerland.

   His novel The Silver Bears was filmed in 1978, the movie starring Michael Caine, Martin Balsam, Cybill Shepherd and Jay Leno. Says IMDB of the story line: “Financial wizard “Doc” Fletcher (Michael Caine) is sent by crime boss Joe Fiore (Martin Balsam) to buy a bank in Switzerland in order to more easily launder their profits.” Things go downhill from there. Turns out that the story (as filmed) is a comedy.

Silver  Bears

   Mr. Erdman’s unplanned career change obviously went well with him, and the millions of readers he garnered never complained either. Along with the abundant dose of criminal intent in each of his thrillers, there was enough real world application that came with them that, if they were paying attention, his readers could have earned a practical degree in economics or international finance as well. Many of his readers probably already had one.