So now we know what Matt McCleery was up to during lockdown. After hosting webinars for Marine Money in the mornings, he was then shutting himself up and hammering out the third in his colourful series of shipping novels.
Exit Strategy again features Robert Fairchild, the New York financier who tries to navigate the contemporary shipping business and its at times troubled relationship with finance.
For fans of McCleery’s first two novels, The Shipping Man and Viking Raid, there are another 319 pages to chuckle through. And for those who have found McCleery’s airport-thriller style of narrative rather grating, sadly for you too there are another 319 pages of much the same to avoid.
McCleery started his career as a journalist after training in law, becoming managing editor of Marine Money in the late 1990s. Over the last 20 years, he has become a stalwart of the maritime community in and around Connecticut and New York on the US East Coast.
It’s experience and knowledge he’s put to good work in his creative writing, crafting stories that entwine to tales of evergreen shipping characters with the upheavals of financial markets and their volatile relationship with the industry.
Exit Strategy opens with the backstory of cartoonish shipowner Coco Jacobsen, before seamlessly switching gears to feature real life Norwegian titan Hilmar Reksten on its opening page.
I was first sent a copy of The Shipping Man by a colleague shortly after it was first published in 2011 as I recuperated at home after a life-threatening cycling accident.
As I lay on my sofa wrapped in blankets turning the pages high on painkillers, I wasn’t quite sure whether McCleery’s intention was to write semi-serious fiction, satire or some new genre of surreal maritime magical realism. Although it was an entertaining distraction, I must admit that at that time I didn’t make it to the end.
But McCleery’s spirited and colourful storytelling has won a raft of plaudits, including from US secretary of commerce Wilbur Ross, who called the second book “a gripping novel”.
Ross has been grappling with his own tricky exit strategy from shipping in recent years, and now faces his own exit after November’s US presidential election. Exit Strategy will appeal for sure.
McCleery’s books are as much educational narratives as much as novels. Some less generous critics may dismiss their literary merits, and just regard them as educational narratives. But they are none the less for that.
Whether you love them or roll your eyes at them, McCleery’s novels have earned a distinctive niche in today’s shipping world, and all credit to him for achieving that.
Exit Strategy is available from Marine Money at www.marinemoney.com