Born 1932 Died 2007
Paul Emil Erdman was born on the 19th May 1932 at Stratford, Ontario Despite his Canadian birth regarded himself as an American, since both his parents were American and he was largely educated in the United States. He went to the Concordia Seminary, St Louis where he graduated with a degree in Divinity and then attended the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. Erdman spent some time as a journalist with The Washington Post before attending the University of Basel where he graduated in 1958 with a doctorate in Economics, European History and Theology, and then went to work for the European Coal and Steel Community as an economist.
In 1965 he set up a private bank in Switzerland. Originally called the Salik Bank, it later changed its name to the United California Bank, but unfortunately the bank collapsed in 1970 as a result of multi-million dollar losses incurred in trading cocoa and silver futures. Erdman was arrested on suspicion of fraud and spent eight months in a Swiss prison - a not entirely unpleasant experience as he was allowed to order in food and wine from local restaurants.
In order to pass the time he decided to write an economics book, but abandoned that idea since he had no access to any research materials, and decided to write a novel instead. The resulting book, The Billion Dollar Sure Thing was published in 1973 and won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America in 1974. As Erdman later told The American Banker in 1996, “It was what you call a successful career change.” The Swiss authorities eventually granted him bail, after which he fled to the United States and declined to return to Switzerland. In 1973 he was convicted in absentia of fraud and sentenced to nine years, giving him an even better reason not to return to Switzerland.
The success of The Billion Dollar Sure Thing encouraged him to write a series of similar novels all of which fitted into the genre of financial fiction or fi-fi, featuring complex plots based on skulduggery in the world's financial markets and based in exotic locales which he carefully researched before hand. His second novel, The Silver Bears (1974) was sold to Hollywood and appeared as a 1978 movie of the same name, starring Michael Caine and Jay Leno. Other successes included The Crash of 79 (1976), The Panic of 89 (1987) and The Swiss Account (1991).
This last work was an historical novel set in World War II, which despite being fiction was based on research which detailed how certain Swiss banks had co-operated with Nazi Germany in laundering funds extracted from the Jews. It has been claimed that the novel was at least partly responsible for developing public interest in the issue and for the subsequent settlement paid by the banks to Holocaust victims and their heirs. (And which could also be interpreted as pay-back for the embarassment suffered back in 1970.)
In addition to writing fiction Erdman also became a newspaper pundit (and later on the internet as well) eager to express his opinion on a wide variety of topics ranging from theology to professional football and wrote a number of popular non-fiction works on the subject of financial markets.
On his return to the United States in the 1970s he lived in northern California and owned a ranch in Sonoma County, near Healdsburg, California, where he died from cancer on the 23rd April 2007 at the age of seventy-four.
I would just note that while both the New York Times and the Daily Telegraph claim in their obituaries that Paul Erdman was convicted of fraud, an article in the Sonoma County Independent dating from 1998 claims that "his innocence was established and he was released".
Obituaries for Paul Erdman from
Paul Erdman puts big stock in financial thrillers
From the September 10-16, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.