Thursday, September 25, 2014


This year's HKILF (from Oct 31 to Nov 9) has a great line up of internationally renowned authors. Junot Diaz (Pulitzer Prize winner), Chris Pavone (The Expats), Chang-rae Lee (The Surrendered, and others), Tash Aw (Five Star Billionaire) and Chan Koonchung (The Unbearable Dreamworld of Champa the Driver) are a few of the writers who will be traveling to Hong Kong to present. Closer to home from Hong Kong, Justin Hill, Xu Xi, Janice Lee and a certain Phillip Kim will also be involved.

My panel - A Sense of Place, together with Junot Diaz, Chris Pavone, Janice Lee and Lauren Groff - will be held on Sunday, November 2 at 1:30 pm at Hong Kong University. Details at the link below.

Come one, come all and support literature in Hong Kong!

A Sense of Place - Event Description and Registration

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


Making it Big in Hong Kong: A Matter of Good Fortune?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Author spends his birthday participating on a BBC Forum panel moderated by Bridget Kendall talking about Hong Kong’s evolution as a place for making money and developing creative industries.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

HKWC Podcast

The author speaks to fellow Hong Kong Writers Circle committee member Simon Overton about the process of writing and issues dealt with in Nothing Gained.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Korea Times Interview and Article

After the 2008 financial crisis, plenty of ink was spilt to explain why stock markets plunged and governments bailed out large financial institutions. For those unversed in the jargon of international finance, it was not an easy event to understand.

The evictions, foreclosures and unemployment that followed in some parts of the world, of course, were a gut-punch for millions. But factors such as sub-prime mortgages and high risk, complex financial products didn't exactly make for riveting reading.

Phillip Y. Kim, a first-time novelist with a long history in the banking industry, is out to change that.

His new book, Nothing Gained, is a thriller that paints an intriguing, if unsettling, portrait of the world of investment banking. Having worked for 25 years at such firms as Lehman Brothers and Morgan Stanley, the Korean-American is well placed to shed light on some of the more colorful, if unsavory, aspects of the industry.

Rife with details about the high-rolling lifestyles of the nouveau riche, and with a plot filled with intrigue, Kim is able to expose readers to the complicated world of banking in Asia and the pitfalls of unfettered greed.

The pursuit of wealth inevitably attracts unique and charismatic personalities, and often leads to incredible circumstances, Kim said in an email interview. I wanted to tell an entertaining story that was based on some of the events I witnessed or heard about over the years.

The plot stems from the drowning death of Jason Donahue, a wealthy expat banker in Hong Kong, which sends tremors through the corporate elite. Cheryl, his wife, is forced to deal with his web of unethical business dealings, including the matter of $20 million unaccounted for.

To protect her family, Cheryl, a Korean-American, engages with a motley crue of shady characters, and traverses the globe to find the one person that can help her. He is aided by Todd Leahy, Jason's chief of staff.

We asked Kim who has spent much of his career in Asia ― about the transition from banker to novelist, Asia's “one percent,” and the role of Asian economies in global finance.

Q. After 25 years in banking, why did you make the leap into writing?

A. Creative writing has seemed to have always been in my blood. After college, I chose banking as a career over writing because I thought it would give me a better chance to earn a decent living. However, as I gained more flexibility in my work schedule over the past few years, the urge to chronicle some of my experiences became much more insistent.

Three years ago, a plot idea for a novel came to me. I quickly realized that I needed to plunge in and attempt to write it before I got too old, and while I still had the energy and drive. It has been an interesting transition; writing is very different from banking. Creative writing is right-brain oriented, not left-brain.

Q. Nothing Gained is full of intriguing characters, some of whom are less than savory. Would you say they accurately reflect the nature of people in this industry?

A. I tried to make the characters in the book very realistic. I don't think that anyone is a caricature or an exaggeration of the types of people that investment bankers come across in their lives. There are always going to be senior bankers such as Jason Donahue who let greed get the better of them. Similarly, there are really decent, hardworking people in the business such as Todd Leahy. And as for the bad guys, Asia abounds with its share of nasty, arrogant people ― both Asians and Westerners ― who will stop at nothing to get their way or for whom "ethics" is a four-letter word.

Q. What are some of the unique characteristics of the rich in Asia, and how do they differ from other parts of the world?

A. Asia is a large and diverse continent, so it's hard to generalize across the region. However, many Asian cultures emphasize a high degree of social decorum. Causing a person to directly lose face is a taboo. A consequence of this politeness is a lack of candor. It can sometimes be very difficult to ascertain a counterparty's true motives in doing a deal, but it is very important to do so, and the sooner the better. Appearances alone can be deceiving.

Q. Some of the characters appear to seamlessly traverse cultures. But Cheryl, who like you is Korean-American, feels as if she is a "third-culture" person. Is that sensation you have had?

A. Engaging in an international life can be both thrilling and disconcerting. In the good times, one feels a deeply satisfying connection to the rest of the world. However, when things go wrong, living in a third culture can be very alienating. As Cheryl's life and perception of it gets turned upside down, part of what she has to deal with psychologically is her status as an outsider. I made her a Korean-American because I wanted to stay close to her emotionally as she goes through her trials and challenges.

Q. Nothing Gain takes a look at the global financial crisis from an Asian perspective. What are your thoughts on Asia's role during that time; and moving forward?

A. The origins of the 2008 crisis had little to do with Asia. The problems were centered in the United States, and to a lesser extent, the United Kingdom. In fact, Asian countries (notably China) helped to save the global economy from ruin by providing capital and liquidity into the system when the Western banks faced collapse. As you may recall, the Korea Development Bank gave serious consideration to bailing out Lehman Brothers. Even though that deal did not happen (fortunately for KDB), Asian money helped keep the world on its feet.

However, Asia should be far from complacent. The region has had its share of banking crises ― the IMF crisis in 1997, the Korean credit card crisis in 2002 etc. And there will certainly be others. The Chinese banking system is under heavy scrutiny these days, and it remains to be seen whether questionable asset quality again poses major systemic risks to the international economy.

Q. Do you plan to stay in both banking and writing? What does writing do for you?

A. For as long as is possible, I would like to be able to straddle both worlds. Banking allows me to keep in touch with businesses and try to help clients with their deals. However, I also want to write, mainly because I am compelled to do so. I would love to be able to continue to devote a lot of time to writing stories that entertain and enlighten people. There is so much to talk about in Asia, a region where rapid wealth creation is changing billions of lives on many different levels; politically, socially and individually.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Groove Korea - Book Review

Phillip Y. Kim’s new thriller “Nothing Gained” is set in glamorous post-millennial Hong Kong. His debut novel unravels the complicated and secretive world of Asia’s finance industry.
Having worked in finance for over 25 years, Kim spent most of his career laboring in Asia for corporate giants Lehman Brothers and Morgan Stanley. “Nothing Gained” was inspired by Kim’s own experiences in the industry, with his extensive knowledge of finance and Asian business culture laying the foundation for the novel’s story arc.
The story is set in 2010, unfolding during the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis and showcasing the demise of global investment banks Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. and The Bear Stearns Companies, Inc. This timeline gives an excellent portrait of the concern, skepticism and public scrutiny that has followed wealthy bankers and “fat cat” CEOs since that fallout.
“Nothing Gained” opens with the mysterious death of a prominent investment banker, Jason Donahue. The star of his firm, Barker Reed, his sudden and untimely death exposes some “very inconvenient truths” for those closest to him.
“Have you ever in your life been completely bowled over by someone?” This is how Jason’s wife, Cheryl Donahue, feels after she suddenly finds herself immersed in the seedy underworld of the Asian business market. As everyone around her attempts to “come to grips with the enigma of Jason Donahue,” Cheryl is forced to dive into the depths of her husband’s double life to protect herself and her family.
In “Nothing Gained,” high-stakes deals make investment banking look more like a sport than a career. While the topic is neither new nor groundbreaking, what makes Kim’s novel unique is the focus onChina, particularly Macau and Hong Kong. Kim’s own background reveals itself in the subtle details that reflect his insider knowledge.
He also highlights essential Asian customs, including the importance of reputation and food, adding a layer of nuance and authenticity with each detail. Even while doing this, he still manages to keep his language and style accessible, so you don’t need a degree in economics to understand the references or appreciate the thrill.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Shanghai Daily Coverage

According to an old joke, if a falling object hits and kills 10 people on Wall Street, chances are that nine out of them are lawyers or bankers. 
This concentration of financial professionals in a densely populated place is also likely to be matched in Hong Kong’s Central area, one of Asia’s best-known financial clusters, teeming with investment bankers, fund managers and securities brokers. 
So what would happen if something falls off a glitzy, towering office building in Central and kills someone as prominent as Jason Donahue? 
Donahue is a figure central to Phillip Y. Kim’s financial thriller “Nothing Gained.” As the chief of the Asian operations of Barker Reed, a fictitious leading investment bank, he drowns while taking a nighttime swim with friends and colleagues. 
His death drops a bombshell, sending shockwaves around the regional market and leaving his heartbroken family, mistress, company colleagues and business partners with hard questions to answer. 
The timing of Donahue’s death could hardly have been worse. It coincides with the 2008 world financial crisis and the start of the European debt debacle — two events that bring turmoil to the privileged lives of managers like Donahue. But his mess is even bigger, as he got himself into a shady deal concerning a casino project in Macau without his company’s knowledge. 
The deal went wrong and threatened to unravel after Donahue pocketed US$20 million as his personal fees out of the investors’ US$120 payment. He justified this as “payback” for lobbying to get the go-ahead from authorities for the project. 
But this “theft” deeply annoys the investor, a thuggish Vegas property contractor. 
Donahue’s sudden and suspicious death prompts the developer and his minions to mercilessly harass the banker’s Korean-American widow into paying her husband’s debts. 
The story would be, of course, a little too simplistic if it merely revolved around the unethical deeds of a banker. A sub-plot is provided through Winston Chan, a star fund manager who Donahue’s firm backed for years, brokering money into his funds. 
But Chan is feeling the heat as local regulatory bodies, media and rivals question the consistently glowing performance of his funds at a time when others are taking a drubbing. 
Chan seeks his sponsor’s help to bail him out. But with Donahue’s death, any support he could count on is gone. The glittering facade of his Ponzi scheme can no longer last, and as the probe deepens against him, Chan flees Hong Kong, spending time on the run before eventually being caught in Florence. 
In the fallout, investors stampede for the exit, fund prices plummet and murky facts begin to surface about Barker Reed’s indiscretions and irregularities in its brokering for Chan. 
For a writer conceiving a financial thriller, Hong Kong is an ideal setting: with its highly developed financial services; the number of people the industry employs; the cutthroat competition and ugly fights to achieve at the expense of others; and the stereotype of the scheming Chinese — or Asian — mind, vital to portrayals of East-West conflicts of interests. 
Kim’s novel is engrossing for many reasons: his elegant prose; fast-paced storytelling; an emerging global background as the story develops; and the realism provided by using the real names of locations and places. 
But his greatest achievement is in presenting through stories how “too big to fail” corporate giants were easily toppled by the greed and dishonesty of a few powerful individuals, without invoking impenetrable jargon. 
The story would be even fuller had it shifted a little from the troubles confronting high-living expats and burrowed more into the lives of locals. 
Hong Kong is arguably among the most economically Darwinian places on earth, where people’s sense of insecurity about their wealth is seldom appeased by a short bullish run on the Hang Seng Index. 
Greed is never the shortcoming of just a few; it is a social pandemic from which few are immune. And the morality of Kim’ story of overreaching greed would perhaps remain longer with his readers if discussed more in view of an insecure public.

Saturday, May 25, 2013


This profile of the author and book was published this morning:

Monday, May 6, 2013


Given the #1 slot is empty, Nothing Gained should be at #5.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Asian Review of Books - Nothing Gained

"8 May 2013 — Jason Donahue, the Hong Kong banker at the centre of Phillip Y. Kim’s debut novel Nothing Gained, has been living the male expat fantasy.
The night before he dies, Jason is at a closing dinner for a very unethical $120 million investment in a money-spinning Macau casino. Dominique Flaubert, his French paramour and subordinate at investment bank Barker Reed, is by his side. His beautiful Korean-American wife, Cheryl, is at their beachfront Hong Kong home with their two children—probably longing for his return.
Thankfully, Nothing Gained is not really about this American dealmaker’s short but charmed life. Instead, his drowning in Deep Water Bay forces Cheryl to engage the man’s world of Asian finance to find the true cost of all those expensive amenities she required and took for granted as a banker’s wife. In short, she must sort out the disaster he leaves behind while keeping her children, and their trust funds, safe.
Her husband has indeed left behind a big mess. At the Macau dinner, Jason indelicately tells the hirsute Howard Leitner, his intended casino partner, that he will only transfer $100 million of the US$120 million he’d promised. The remaining $20 million will be his fee. Without his connections, Jason suggests, Beijing would have never agreed to the deal with such an Asia novice as Howard.

The missing millions propel one of two storylines. The strong but emotive Cheryl Donahue and Todd Leahy, Jason’s anodyne chief of staff, look for a way out of paying the money (and, strangely, consider paying it). Cheryl and her children, at the same time, face serious threats from Leitner and his double-crossing crew of Asian miscreants.
The second storyline is also related to Jason’s past handiwork. Barker Reed, at Jason’s insistence, raised capital for hedge fund manager Winston Chan when no other firm dared. Jason and Dominique usher hundreds of millions of dollars Winston’s way, putting Barker’s sterling reputation on the line. When the novel begins, his funds’ performance has been so good for so long that Bernie Madoff comparisons are made, investors start to redeem and the Hong Kong regulator is in pursuit.
Winston and his liaison at Barker, a heartbroken Dominique, flee Asia, although separately. Soon, Barker Reed executives, financial regulators, Cheryl, Todd, Israeli and Russian spies, an Indonesian thug, among others, are looking for them. No doubt there are a lot of interests to keep track of here, but not all of them are necessary.

Kim, who has worked in finance for 25 years, writes about an industry he knows well. The novel is notionally set in 2010. Readers who have personally navigated the credit crisis, or just kept abreast of it in the press, will find much to identify with in Nothing Gained. Besides Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, Lehman Brothers and CEO Dick Fuld are named and shamed. The sale of failing Bear Stearns to JP Morgan “for a song” is also featured.
This sort of exposition, when it’s not clear how important it is to Asia, let alone the novel’s plot, can be intrusive. On the other hand, Kim’s voluptuous descriptions of food, wine and all things Asia, though certainly over-enthusiastic, are in keeping with the story’s premise. Might Cheryl’s true nemesis be conspicuous consumption, the hallmark of wealthy expats in Asia, and not Dominique, Howard or the memory of her rotten husband? Has Kim written a satire and not a financial thriller?

The last word should go to Cheryl. After one hell of a meeting at the Conrad hotel, in the first half of the novel, Cheryl wends through the “canned air” of the Pacific Place mall to Dan Ryan’s bar and orders “a chardonnay, not specifying a particular label.”
The lack of status-revealing detail here is important. It takes a little while before this oenophile recognises the flavour: “There was something about this modest wine that she embraced. It tasted like honesty.” "

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Time Out Beijing article, May 2013

Phillip Y Kim suggests we meet for an aperitif at the Four Seasons in Hong Kong. We are here to discuss the Korean-American investment banker’s debut novel, Nothing Gained, a fast-paced psychological thriller set during the 2008 financial crisis in Asia. In the hotel’s buzzy bar, chic clientele nurse martinis, a live band croons in the background and the view stretches over the sea as dusk descends. It is precisely the sort of place that Kim’s brash, brilliant protagonist,     
Jason Donahue – a wealthy banker whose sudden drowning sets in motion a chain of cataclysmic events – would visit for a stiff drink.
In the novel Jason is a cocksure bastard, happy to cheat on wife and colleagues for fast cash and faster thrills. Kim is anything but. A slight man wearing jeans and glasses, he appears humble and personable. He is also faintly nervous. While he has carved a successful career in finance during his two decades in Hong Kong, writing is new territory in which he is largely untested.
Kim first self-published his novel on Amazon under the title A Hidden Moon, fulfilling a lifelong ambition to write. Penguin China soon picked up the book. ‘I received one of these “drop the phone” calls in the middle of the mall,’ Kim recalls, still wide-eyed. The finished product was officially published this year and the Amazon version swiftly removed.
What made Kim, now 51, pick up his pen? ‘I wanted to lift the lid on the banking world of Asia. Whether good or bad, the characters you meet are very strong,’ says the author, who entered the industry in its heyday during the 1980s. ‘The people I met were fascinating. They were opinionated, they were smart, they were ambitious. They came from the best schools. It was very alluring. For my generation it was the profession.’
The story deals with the very public fallout of this glitzy set. ‘How do you talk about consequences of overarching greed?’ asks Kim. ‘I knew that was going to be a key theme. Talking about it on a societal level has been done many times. How do you personalise it? How do you make it more emotional? It’s the family. Whatever a bad banker has been doing comes back to haunt the family.’
In the novel, after Jason drowns, his wife, Cheryl, is left to pick up the pieces. Like Kim, she is Korean-American. Unlike Kim, she is a stay-at-home spouse whose life consists, until her husband’s accident, of leisurely lunches, yoga sessions and sipping on champagne at home.
Against this privileged world, Hong Kong looms large. The city is, says Kim, ‘almost a caricature for money and capitalism run amok’. It is contrasted with Singapore, a country that Kim's characters also visit –a place Kim describes as ‘a managed Disneyland with the death penalty’.
It is hard to put down the book, which races along with the speed of a thriller. Holding back the novel are some clichéd characters. But, a few caricatures aside, what really shines is Kim’s insider’s depiction of the finance world. Not all of it is pretty. Nothing Gained is fictional but its core subject matter – avarice gone berserk – is not. ‘You are aware that all across Asia there are people who take cuts in the form of business expenses or consulting fees,’ explains Kim in a matter-of-fact tone.
He elaborates: ‘I had known several of the people who were at Peregrine [the investment company] that went down in 1998. It was very clear that it was going to blow up eventually. It was a case of absence of checks and balances. In similar situations, fraud is something that is bound to surface.’
Temptation for Jason and other characters comes not only in the form of money, but also women. One character visits a nightclub in Singapore with a potential business partner only to be showered with hired girls, one of whom sports angel wings and not much else. Kim says the scene is a composite of nightclubs he has visited across Asia. ‘Too often you cannot say no to going to after-dinner business entertainment. How far you go is your choice,’ he says. He pauses. Then adds: ‘I’m not exposing anything new. It is just very, very common, not just in banking. Not everyone crosses the line. But who does and who doesn’t, you don’t really know.’
It is racy stuff, and this is an industry that Kim still relies on for his bread and butter. So what do his colleagues think? He laughs. ‘If I was the first one to come out and talk about how bad some bankers were,I wouldn’t be sitting here. I might be floating down a river with a bunch of pigs in Shanghai!’
Kim’s next novel promises to dish yet more dirt. A prequel set during the mid-noughties, it will track Jason’s meteoric rise. Much of the action this time will take place in Mainland China, where dodgy deals are cut and rivalries rubbed up.
What of the future for Kim? For now, he continues juggling his career with his passion; ‘you really need to “ctrl-alt-del” one world and then boot up another’ he jokes. And so far he has done better than many bankers, who, he says, might burn out by the age of 40.
‘Some fall afoul of internal political issues or they get enough money where they think: “I don’t want to do this anymore.” Really successful ones might go into philanthropy,’ he muses. Then he looks up with a grin. ‘Very few become writers.’

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Chinese University of Hong Kong: Discussing the Craft of Writing

Thanks to Harrison Kelly of, I had the privilege of chatting yesterday evening with a group of students from Morningside College CUHK about the schizophrenic life bouncing between writing and banking. This being Hong Kong, the session ended with a lucky draw, whereby five participants got free signed copies of Nothing Gained.

Trying to sound intelligent

Free book winners. Were they lucky? Wait for the reviews!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Review in - Nothing Gained

These days, bankers are about as popular as a dose of Beijing belly. And Phillip Y. Kim’s debut novel does nothing to mend the shattered reputations of those whose greed threw the world’s economies into turmoil.

Nothing Gained is less a critique of the banking system—though that is part of it—but a thriller with money as one of its main characters. Originally self-published under the titleA Hidden Moon, the book is set in Hong Kong post 2008 global financial meltdown. It follows the disastrous domino effect unleashed by the sudden death of big-shot banker, Jason Donahue.
As Donahue’s glamorous wife Cheryl tries to deal with the consequences of her husband’s lie-filled business and personal life, Todd Leahy, an employee at the dead man’s investment firm, comes to her rescue. The two are drawn into a shady Macau casino deal that has them putting out fires in Hong Kong, Singapore and as far afield as Tuscany.
Kim, a Korean-American investmentbanker-turned-writer, has spent most of his career in Asia’s finance industry, and so gives a juicy, insider view of Hong Kong’s elite, or the Asia One Per Cent, as he refers to them in his personal blog.
But while he vilifies the greed and graft with which the powerful finance industry has become synonymous, there is a sense that he remains in thrall to its glamor. His lavish detailing of the accoutrements of a money-cushioned life—penthouse apartments, luxury cars, beautiful women—leaves one feeling both seduced and a little grubby.
In the same vein, Kim’s female characters seem to be based around their sexual availability more than their intellect. On one hand he criticizes a culture in which women are treated as glamorous chattels; on the other, they all appear to affirm this stereotype. But if the women are vacuous, most of the men in the book are crooks and philanderers, so one could argue that Kim is pretty even-handed in his censure. As his hero Todd says at one point: “Am I the enemy? Are all men the enemy?”
Sexual politics aside, Nothing Gained is a pacey read with fluent and imaginative descriptions. A skilled story-teller, Kim succeeds in keeping readers interested, even while throwing in money jargon that would send most laymen running to look up
And while much has already been written and committed to film about the fallout from the financial crisis, he provides a welcome fresh take by revealing the less-told Asian perspective.
As with many thrillers, Kim has a lot of loose ends to tie up by the final chapter, which makes the conclusion a little rushed. In it, he metes out some enjoyably tough justice to the bad bankers. It’s a satisfying scenario we’ve yet to see happen in the real world.
Nothing Gained, Phillip Y. Kim, Penguin China in association with Penguin Australia, find it at The Bookworm or online at

Now available in bookstores and as an e-book

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Day in the Life of an Investment Banker
As appearing in the

Jason Donahue (Barker Reed) on a typical day in Hong Kong
6.15 a.m.: Wake to an alarm, not a morning person but drag myself out of bed to have breakfast with my kids. I can’t eat this early so I throw down a double cappuccino to burn off the lingering fog of another sleep-deprived night caused by jet-lag/late-night conference call with the head office in NY/one too many glasses of over-priced Bordeaux over a client dinner…
6.45 a.m.: George (my driver) takes me down to the Hong Kong Country Club for a half hour swim and a banana kiwi protein smoothie
7.30 a.m: Check my emails on my trusty Blackberry on the way into Central - 100 new ones overnight. Typical. My meeting schedule updates (thanks to my assistant Maggie) and as usual it is full.
8.00 a.m.: Breakfast at the Mandarin Grill with a visiting Thai client. I have bircher muesli and mixed fruit, client has abalone congee. The meeting goes well - I get him to agree to my company Barker Reed advising him on the acquisition of a Chinese cement company that he is looking into - potentially a $7 million fee for BR if the deal closes.
10 a.m.: Walk to office in Exchange Square with Todd, my Chief of Staff, who catches me up on the morning’s news, market and research activities. Meet with BR’s Asia head of Capital Markets at the office to review progress of our key deals. Market fears caused by the Eurozone debt crisis have him feeling antsy but I push him hard to keep trying to find additional pools of investor money. We need the revenue.
11 a.m.: Video conference with Singapore office re. pitching a junk bond deal to an Indonesian pharmaceutical company. JP Morgan is pitching as well. Have a light-bulb moment and decide to invite the CEO to attend BR’s global bond forum (read golfing and Montecristo No.2 Cuban cigars) next month at Pebble Beach, California as my personal guest. Judging by his response it looks like it may have won the day.
11.45 a.m.: Meet Cheryl, my wife, and her art consultant at a Hollywood Road art gallery - she has her eye on a Yue Minjun painting. I dutifully play the ‘bad cop’ role, complaining about the piece until we get the discount that we were looking for.
12.30 p.m.: Lunch at Caprice’s with BR’s head of China, the CEO of a major Chinese fashion retailer, and a junior colleague Dominique who is a distraction from the actual business. My monkfish carpaccio and veal tenderloin are delicious. After lunch Dominique walks me back to the office, discreetly kissing my cheek before we part ways - sadly I won’t have time for her later today.
2.30 p.m: Todd briefs me on a summary of the day’s urgent emails and other matters that are flowing up through the management ranks. We spend an hour planning our responses.
3.30 p.m.: Telephone call with BR London’s Investment Banking division head to discuss cross-border deals and year-to-date revenues.
6.00 p.m.: Walk to Central Pier - have been roped into mingling with fifteen newly hired MBAs on our company junk Ambition Ahoy before they set sail on a habour cruise. I grab a cold can of Carlsberg as I step onboard.
7.30 p.m: Closing dinner at Felix, the Philippe Stark-designed restaurant in the Peninsula, for a successful $1 billion bond financing for a Korean client. Red wine is drunk as shots until we move on to “atomic bombs” - shots of whisky diluted with a touch of beer. After four rounds and counting, no one is particularly focused on the five course meal. In terms of follow-on entertainment the client’s objectives have been made plain: Macau. I hand each of our visiting guests an envelope containing US$1,000 in cash for ‘gambling’. As they head off to catch the ferry I call George to take me home.
10.45 p.m.: A management conference call with NY ends just before midnight. I take a melatonin pill and try to get a few hours of sleep as Cheryl slumbers next to me. I hope this life makes her happy.
[Jason Donahue is a fictional character from the financial thriller Nothing Gained by Hong Kong based investment banker Phillip Y. Kim]

Beijing Bookworm Literary Festival – Great Books, Great People

In conversation with Marysia Juszczakiewicz of Peony Literary Agency on Saturday, March 16

Thursday, March 14, 2013

More early reviews: The Beijinger and Shanghai Talk


"Those who enjoy a good fast-paced crime thriller will rejoice at Phillip Y. Kim’s debut novel, Nothing Gained, a compelling work of fiction that delves into the seedy underworld of Asia’s elite. Kim, a Korean-American who has spent the last 25 years as an investment banker for companies including Morgan Stanley and Lehman Brothers, shows promise as one of Asia’s up-and-coming literary talents with this rollercoaster novel that follows protagonist Todd Leahy, as he attempts to investigate the suspicious death of business magnate Jason Donahue.It’s a race against the clock for Leahy to recover lost funds from Donahue’s lucrative business dealings and save Donahue’s widow, Cheryl, from shady characters puttting pressure on her and her family to settle up. The result is an action-packed adventure that spans continents as Leahy ventures from lavish corporate banquets to seedy private nightclubs, in cosmopolitan Singapore and the quainter Italian village of Assisi. Kim is fantastic at depicting the extravagant world of the Hong Kong corporate elite and as a throwaway read, Nothing Gained is great fun. Although perhaps overwhelming in the use of cloying and sometimes sexist descriptions of female characters (which Western readers might find aggravating), Kim depicts the “man’s world” of Asian finance with accuracy and indiscretion. Nothing Gained is a must for those who like the works of similar authors Dan Brown and John Grisham and Kim shows great potential for a follow-up novel." 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

RTHK’s Morning Brew with Phil Whelan interviews “Nothing Gained” author

Link here to the author’s interview on Tuesday, March 12 discussing the world of investment banking, wealthy Asians and the novel.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

A Radio Interview (RTHK Hong Kong’s Money for Nothing Program) discussing Nothing Gained

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

BOOK OF THE MONTH – Timeout Magazine 
in Beijing and Shanghai

"It was Warren Buffet who said, ‘Rule No. 1: never lose money; rule No. 2: don’t forget rule No. 1.’ In the murky world of Asian business negotiations, forgetting the rules can prove fatal, as the privileged protagonists of Phillip Y Kim’s debut novel discover.When a big-wheeling banker drowns, the fate of his tight-knit circle is plunged into uncertainty. A cascade of disturbing realisations – corrupt business deals, promiscuity and profligacy – sully the sanitised lives of those who Jason Donahue, Asia head of investment bank Barker Reed, leaves behind. His widow, Cheryl, is left to face his debtors, who are hungry for their pound of flesh and are willing to take it dead or alive. Set during the 2008 financial crisis the plot hinges on Hong Kong’s moneyed elite. While the men watch the markets, the women sashay from yoga studio to charity ball and so on – apart from those who end up as rich men’s toys, forced into KTV bondage and worse. When the markets crash, the high rollers get jittery as investors start to stampede for the exit, which lays the foundations for juicy subplots surrounding a private equity fund Allcore and an American Casino magnate - think Sheldon Adelson. Hong Kong-based Kim has worked in finance for 25 years, at Lehman Brothers and Morgan Stanley, a fact that lends his fictionalised account chilling authenticity. With this re-release of Nothing Gained (Penguin) – the original story was published independently under another title – Kim joins a coterie of bankers-cumauthors who are cashing in on their turbulent experiences during the crash years. Yet Kim has the ability to relate the complexities of his sub-world to laymen through a rollicking plot and sharp vignettes. Unlike the other authors in this group, he also provides a uniquely Asian perspective, which treads the line of fiction and non-fiction with thrilling tension."

Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Cross Interrogation of Writing Crime Thrillers with an Author from Beijing

(As appeared in The Beijinger online magazine. Link to the interview)

Bankers and murderers. Few occupations make for better villains. Plop these bad guys down in wildly capitalistic Hong Kong, or China's seedy legal system of the 1980's, and you've got two crime thrillers that Beijing fans of the genre will burn through faster than a season of torrented Breaking Bad. Banker-turned-novelist Phillip Kim, author of Nothing Gained (to be released by Penguin China in March), and He Jiahong, the law-educated writer behind Hanging Devils, will be at this year's Bookworm Literary Festival. Read on for a conversation between the authors on writing crime.
Phillip Kim Grills He Jiahong
PK: Your novel was written and is set twenty years ago. Is China’s criminal justice system evolved to a point today where the story would be different if it was set in the present?

HJH: Hanging Devils is a novel about a wrongful conviction in China in the 1980-90’s. There have been some changes to the criminal justice system in China over last 20 years. For example, the Supreme Court, the Supreme Procuratorate, the Ministry of Public Security, the Ministry of State Security and the Ministry of Justice jointly issued “the two provisions on criminal evidence” in June of 2010, and the Amendment to the Criminal Procedure Law was passed by the National People’s Congress in March of 2012. Now, as a result, China has better exclusionary rules against illegally obtained evidence, and this plays a positive role in the prevention of wrongful convictions.

In addition, Chinese society has significantly changed with the rapid development of the economy in the last 30 years; therefore I do think the story in Hanging Devilswould be quite different if it was set in present day China. However, some basic elements of the story would remain, there would still be law enforcement officers who ignore procedural justice and there would still be corruption amongst public officials.
PK: Is the violence that appears in your story unique in some Chinese way, or is all violence pretty much the same in human beings everywhere?

HJH: Violent crimes happen in all countries in the world, but different culture may influence the way the crimes are committed. In Hanging Devils, two instances of violence occur; one rape and murder, and one suicide or homicide. Since the story is set in 1980-90s, both the perpetrators and the victims have the characteristics of Chinese people during that period of time, and their characteristics shape the ways they commit their crimes. If it were set in the USA, for instance, it would have happened differently.
PK: Both you and your lead character Hong Jun received formative legal education in the US, then moved to China. How much of your views on criminal law are now “Chinese” vs “American”? How are they different?

HJH: Many readers of my novels think that Hong Jun is He Jiahong. Although Lawyer Hong does have some of my personal traits and reflects some of my life experience, he is definitely not an autobiographical character – he isn’t me! My legal education in the US did change my own views, as well as those of Hong Jun, on criminal justice. For instance, Hong Jun favors the attitude of Western criminal lawyers and he is proactively involved in the investigation of cases while most Chinese criminal lawyers would not investigate cases actively. One major difference in criminal procedure between China and the US is that the former has the inquisitorial tradition while the latter has the adversarial tradition which means that the roles of lawyers in criminal justice are quite different.

I hope that Hong Jun might be an inspiration to lawyers in China as I believe that Chinese lawyers will play a very important role in establishing the rule of law in this country. In my novels, I present Hong Jun as a "gentleman lawyer." I want to tell lawyers that practicing law is not only about making money. I want to remind them about their ethical responsibilities toward society.
PK: What is the most fascinating crime case that you have ever encountered? What made it so?

HJH: In October, 1994, some police officers came to Beijing from Heilongjiang. They came to our Forensic Science Center at Renmin University of China and they told us about a murder that happened in Heilongjiang in 1989. The defendant, Shi Dongyu, was convicted and served a life sentence in prison. However, new evidence showed that the murder might have been committed by another man. The officers wanted to know whether the aged blood stains they had discovered on some clothes were still good for DNA testing. We gave them a positive answer, but we did not do DNA testing for real cases so they went to the Forensic Medical Examination Center of Beijing Public Security Bureau, and got the proof that Dongyu was not the murderer. It was reported in the Legal Daily on July 21, 1995, and it became the first well-known case of wrongful conviction in modern China. I started to write my first crime novel in late 1994. That case provided me with basic ideas for Hanging Devils.
PK: What roles do women take on in your stories? Do they tend to be in supporting roles or play victims or femme fatales, or are they more than that?

HJH: There is a Chinese saying that “women are half of the sky” and they play important roles in my novels as well. Although my novels are labeled as crime fiction, love is one theme within the stories. I include love at three levels: physical love, sentimental love, and spiritual love - readers can find all the three represented by different characters in Hanging Devils, and may find all three in a single character, Li Hongmei, who is the unfortunate victim of the rape-murder case.
PK: How do your creative and academic sides reinforce each other? Which do you find influences the other more these days?

HJH: I am a jurist, and a novelist. Therefore I write novels of law, and often have novel ideas about law! I have published dozens of law books and five crime novels. I have to admit that I find writing novels far more enjoyable. I think, in my case, that legal study influences my writing more than the other way round evidenced by five of my books: Hanging Devils is about wrongful convictions, Crime of Sex is focused on criminal procedures, Crime of X is heavily influenced by my work from 2006 to 2008 as part-time Deputy Director of the Department of Anti-dereliction of Duty and Infringement on Human Rights at the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, Non-guilty Corrupt Officials is about fighting corruption, and Non-guilty Murder is a textbook for the law of criminal evidence. It is fair to say that in my novels, half is literature and half is law.
He Jiahong Interrogates Phillip Kim
HJH: You have worked in the finance industry for many years and are a successful banker, why did you want to write a novel, and what did you want to gain from the novel Nothing Gained?

 I have always had creative urges, but I had to set them aside over the course of my banking career because I was too busy to pursue any of them in earnest. However, my twenty years of investment banking in Asia have given me a wealth of amazing, thought provoking experiences. Finally, almost three years ago, a plot idea for a novel came to me, which has turned into Nothing Gained. I happen to be at the stage in my career where I can exercise some flexibility in my schedule to indulge such notions.

What have I gained from it? Certainly increased self-awareness of my abilities and limitations, as well as insights into the publishing industry. Beyond that, we’ll see. The jury is still out!
HJH: When writing this novel, did you prefer to have more imagination as a literary writer or more logical or rational thinking as a banker? Or, maybe, does a banker need more imagination than logical thinking?

Imagination in all things is more important than logical thinking – it is a vital driver of any progress. Of course, too much imagination in banking can be a dangerous thing! By definition, writing a novel would be impossible without imagination. However, I also found that the years in banking helped me in the editing process. Bankers have to be analytical, exacting, and organized. Those mental disciplines gave me the ability to self-critique Nothing Gained and try to improve it as best as I could.
HJH: Do you believe in "the perfect crime," and did you let your character in this novel commit a perfect crime?

 History has shown that perpetrators of business crimes and fraud often end up much better off financially because of their misdeeds, even when caught out. Convicted financial criminals may serve jail time, get hit with significant financial penalties, and suffer public humiliation. However, if the aim was solely financial gain and the schemes were sophisticated enough to avoid getting fully unraveled by the authorities, then millions or even billions of dollars in illicit profits may be the ultimate reward.

Does something like that happen in Nothing Gained? Well, that would be telling…  
HJH: Both you and Cheryl, the main character in this novel, are Korean Americans living in Hong Kong, how did you mix Korean culture, Chinese culture, American culture and English culture in your novel?

PK: My story is very much about the collision of cultures and nationalities that defines life in Hong Kong and the Asian banking scene. My characters range from Chinese to Korean American, American, Indonesian, Singaporean, Indian, Russian, Italian, French, Mongolian and Israeli. Nothing Gained is very much about how international interpersonal relationships can either integrate seamlessly or lead to cataclysmic misunderstandings. That is one of the most profound lessons that I have learned during my years in Asia.

I made my lead character, Cheryl, Korean American so that I could feel closer to her emotionally – how she was raised and how she feels being a third culture person living in a Chinese city.
HJH: When writing a crime novel or a thriller, which do you think is more important, character or story?

PK: I think they are equally important. A thriller would not be thriller unless it has a compelling, well-paced plot that has its share of intrigue, suspense and surprises. However, no one would be keen to sit through a 300 page novel unless they become emotionally involved with the characters. I found that creating the bad guys was more fun than the good guys. However, readers need to feel sympathy for the plight that the lead characters are in and want to root for them.
Tickets for Phillip Kim's and He Jiahong's literary festival events are on sale now at the Bookworm

Presenting at the 2013 Bookworm Literary Festival – NOTHING GAINED! The author will be discussing and conducting a book signing of his novel on Saturday, March 16th at 6 pm. He will also be on a discussion panel: Is There A Moral Cliff, a debate about corporate responsibility, on Sunday, March 17th at 4 pm. Renown writers who will be presenting at the Festival include Lionel Shriver (We Need to Talk About Kevin), Chad Harbach (The Art of Fielding), AD Miller (Snowdrop), and Hong Kong’s Justin Hill (Shieldwall). If you are in town, please drop by!

A recent press release from Penguin Group:

Announcing a New China Acquisition
A financial thriller by a Hong Kong industry insider joins The China List

Beijing, 24 August 2012. International trade publisher Penguin Group (China) is pleased to announce its acquisition of Nothing Gained by investment banker Phillip Y. Kim. Originally self-published under the title A Hidden Moon, Phillip Kim’s thriller draws on his vast experience of banking and many years living in Hong Kong.

When the body of one of Hong Kong’s ex-pat elite – a banker and a one-percenter – washes up on a city beach, the comfortable life his widow previously knew is ripped away from her. As she begins to unpick his complicated business affairs, however, she discovers a world of dark dealings she had never imagined.

Set against the backdrop of the 2008 financial crisis, Nothing Gained is a fast paced thriller that jets between Hong Kong, China, Macau, and Europe. Distinguished by multimillion dollar investments, unpalatable truths, insider secrets, material gluttony, and a sense of impending catastrophe, Phillip Y. Kim tells a story that is believable in its time and place – and in its excesses.

Nothing Gained will be published by Penguin China in association with Penguin Australia in early 2013.

Korean American banker Phillip Y. Kim graduated from the University of California, Berkeley. He has worked at Lehman Brothers and Morgan Stanley as well as boutique advisory firms, and has spent the majority of his career in Asia. He lives in Hong Kong with his family and their shih-tzu. Nothing Gained is his first novel.

Coming in March 2013! 

Asia’s wealthiest are the envy of many, but theirs is a cutthroat world governed by a basic truth: one must take in order to possess.

When a member of the corporate elite – a banker and an expat – drowns one night, his wife, Cheryl, is left with more questions than answers. Shady men from her husband’s secret dealings soon emerge and feelings of initial confusion rapidly escalate into imminent danger. Cheryl must venture out from the luxurious existence she has known and delve into her husband’s double life to track down the one person who can save her.

Set against the backdrop of a global financial crisis, Nothing Gained is an international thriller all too true in its time and place. From the densely populated streets of Hong Kong to the country roads of rural Italy, Phillip Y. Kim’s insight into the lives of Asia’s one percent will take you on a ride like no other.

Net Proceeds from a Hong Kong book pre-launch held in May 2012 benefitted VFI.

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