In New York to plug his latest book about Swiss double-dealing during World War II, banker-turned-writer Paul Erdman insists he harbors no grudges toward the Swiss for his arrest and imprisonment for bank fraud 23 years ago.
"My wife is Swiss, my friends are Swiss, and the Swiss themselves tell me I've bent over backwards to be fair," said Mr. Erdman.
In fact, Mr. Erdman owes his career as a writer to the nine months he spent in a Swiss jail.
He said Switzerland's role as financial and commercial go-between for Germany during the war "was an absolute lesson in immorality and lack of transparency" in government actions.
"The mind-set of the people was very different from that of the government, which was pro-German and ready to cut deals because it thought Germany was going to win the war."
That particular chapter in history is the subject of "The Swiss Account," his most recent thriller on espionage, intrigue, political rivalries, and secret deals among senior Swiss, German, and American officials.
Mr. Erdman's imprisonment ended a seven-year career in banking that began in 1964, when he and other investors set up a bank in Switzerland. His career crashed when Swiss regulators discovered $12 million in accumulated foreign-exchange trading losses.
A Comfortable Imprisonment
He described his temporary accommodations as "not your ordinary jail -- sort of a single with bath in an old monastery where you could order your food and wine from the outside."
With little to do, he ordered a typewriter and began writing "The Billion Dollar Sure Thing."
After that he was on his way, churning out one financial page-turner after another, including "The Crash of '79" and the "The Panic of '89."
The 60-year-old author is already on his way to another novel about a convicted inside trader who studies banking country by country until he latches on to the perfect criminal scheme.
"Once out of jail he goes for it, not for revenge but for the pure thrill of the hunt," Mr. Erdman said.
One reason for the interest in his books, he said, is that the end of the cold war makes financial thrillers particularly relevant.
"Half the books written over the last couple of decades have been about Russian spies," Mr. Erdman said. "Real conflict has moved to an economic plane, and most Americans -- including journalists -- don't have a clue about how the international financial system works."
Educated in U.S., Switzerland
Mr. Erdman was born in Stratford, Ontario, into a Prussian family that had moved to the United States around 1820. After military prep school in Fort Wayne, Ind., he took degrees at Concordia College in St. Louis and the Georgetown School of Foreign Studies.
After obtaining a doctorate in economics from the University of Basel, Switzerland, he worked for the Stanford Research Institute and a Bermuda-based investment firm before helping set up the bank in Basel.
Fluent in French and German, Mr. Erdman divides his time between writing at his California ranch and lecturing on international economic trends. He has no thoughts of a banking comeback.
"Banking's lurched from one disaster to the other for the last 10 years," he said. "Margins have improved, but most U.S. banks have pulled out of international and the fun's gone.
"What would I do in banking today?" he shrugged, "Mortgage refinancings?"