Viking Raid by Matthew McCleery [Book Review]

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There are many things about the shipping business that the normal land-dwelling person hasn’t the slightest clue about. It is often taken for granted that produce from South America, Oil from the Middle East, and consumer goods from China all arrive on our shores daily.

Behind the constant circumnavigation of supertankers and cargo ships are a handful of multi-billionaires that live in a constant bath of opulence, despite being as fierce as sharks at the negotiating table. Though the few shipowners enjoy massive paydays on occasion, their markets are just about the most volatile in the world. This rarely-exposed, jet-setting lifestyle is at the core of Matthew McCleery’s 2014 novel Viking Raid.

Viking Raid takes place in present day, and the narrator follows Robert Fairchild, the protagonist of McCleery’s 2011 novel, Shipping Man. The first novel ended with Fairchild draining his hedge fund account in order to buy his first ship and ultimately call himself a “shipping man”.

Combining a ship finance textbook with a jet setting geopolitical romp, Viking Raid picks up where The Shipping Man left off – on a journey into the famously private world of international shipping tycoons and their financiers. At the conclusion of The Shipping Man, Robert Fairchild is sipping rosé on the Côte d’Azur with Coco Jacobsen and toasting to the success of their $300 million junk bond offering; six months later the CEO is in the 120-degree engine room of a supertanker discharging two million barrels of Saudi crude oil – afraid for his job and afraid for his life. 

Fortunes change quickly in the volatile world of international oil shipping and Fairchild knows that unless he can find another $500 million soon his powerful Norwegian tanker tycoon boss will have little use for him. When Robert convinces Coco to attempt an Initial Public Offering of Viking Tankers on Wall Street, the desperate American thinks his problems may have been solved – but the former hedge fund manager couldn’t be more wrong. Instead, Fairchild finds himself stuck between an American shale gas wildcatter and The Peoples’ Republic of China in their competition for clean energy. 

Combining swashbuckling shipping adventure with corporate finance derring-do, Viking Raid puts Fairchild back at the table in the highest stakes casino in the world – with more than just his deal at risk.

After making a bone-headed shipping call with his powerful boss’ money, his boss puts Fairchild’s son’s trust fund on the chopping block. Fairchild must go through a gauntlet of shipping giants to fix his mistake and ensure the financial safety of his family.

All the while, Matthew McCleery, President of Maritime Money International, educates the reader in the complex financial nuances in the shipping business, which are mostly discussed at port-side lunch tables. From Greece, to Denmark, to London, to Korea and all the way to the Channel Islands in France, Fairchild goes to the end of both the earth and his wits in pursuit of restoring his mistake.

viking-raid-robert-fairchild-novel-matthew-mccleery-paperback-cover-artI personally had a hard time putting Viking Raid down once I started reading it. My time spent reading it was equal parts learning and entertainment. The novel has so many lavish and realistic descriptions of different shipping hubs it was easy to imagine being right next to Fairchild in his journey around the world. McCleery also does an outstanding job in weaving modern context into the story, and he is dead-on in his references to today’s celebrities and current events. Because Fairchild is truly a greenhorn to the ship owning business, the reader gains an easy-to-understand, yet in-depth view at how the ships are chartered and financed. I truly did not know how Fairchild would fare until the very last few pages of the novel.

The novel is filled with eye-opening statistics about commonly unknown practices within the shipping business. In addition, there are diagrams that drastically aid in explaining the economics of the multi-billion dollar per year business. For example, ships kept in what’s called the “spot” market are basically like the taxi-cabs of the ocean. They are for-hire and are paid a vastly different rate depending on the condition of the market. From the novel, “After operating expenses, a Panamax bulk carrier trading spot would have earned $ 1 million in 1986, $ 3.5 million in 1989 , $ 1.5 million in 1992, $ 2.5 million in 1995, and $ 16.5 million in 2007! A new Panamax would have cost $ 13.5 million in 1986, $ 30 million in 1990, $ 19 million in 1999 and $ 48 million in 2007.”

As one Amazon commenter said about the book, it may not be wise for some middle-aged men to read the book, as it may entice them to try and enter the extremely volatile shipping business. Despite this recommendation, I would absolutely give this book to any one of my friends, young or old. McCleery’s writing style makes it easy to run through the text nearly as fast as the protagonist travels the world, and I knew I wanted to keep flipping pages until I got to the last word.

Viking Raid is perfect for everyone from the shipping tycoon to someone who just wants to a good weekend read. This riveting international maritime story has incredibly insightful information about shipping finance along the way, and I am eagerly waiting the possible next installment of the Robert Fairchild series.

The novel is available on Amazon starting at around $10.