Pursuits | Books

Book club: Have you heard of these fictional accountants?

Vigilantes, gamblers, vampires—in the literary world, finance professionals live exciting adventures

A Facebook IconFacebook A Twitter IconTwitter A Linkedin IconLinkedin An Email IconEmail

actors Bob Gunton with Charlie Cox in a scene from Netflix's 'Marvel's Daredevil'Bob Gunton (right) plays supervillain accountant Leland Owlsley, known as The Owl of Wall Street, in Marvel’s Daredevil on Netflix (Image courtesy of Netflix)

Accountants are no strangers to television and the big screen, so it’s no surprise they turn up in plenty of books as well.

According to G. Stevenson Smith in The Accountant: A Character in Literature, accountants in books cover a wide range of personas, including “murderers, alcoholics, magical characters, cowboys, detectives, bumblers, MBAs and love-seekers.” They figure most prominently in psychological fiction (28.6 per cent) and romantic fiction (20.3 per cent), but they also populate mystery (18.6 per cent), financial (13.6 per cent) and noir genres (6.8 per cent).

Although some are a bit cliché, here’s a list of interesting characters that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

THE FALL GUY

in A Bank Fraud by Rudyard Kipling (1890)

In this tome, accountant Silas Riley is extremely sick and dying. Kipling, who won the Nobel Prize in literature for his poetry, short stories and novels (including The Jungle Book), uses strong words to describe the newly arrived character in Calcutta (now Kolkata), India: “Mr. Silas Riley, Accountant, was a MOST curious animal—a long, gawky, rawboned Yorkshireman, full of the savage self-conceit that blossoms only in the best county in England.” Unfortunately, Riley’s frail nature presents an opportunity for the scheming bank manager, who is planning to rob the institution, to take advantage of him and steal his livelihood. 

THE GAMBLER

in Loser Takes All, by Graham Greene (1955)

About to get married in Monte Carlo, young Bertram, an accountant by profession, decides to visit the casino. At first he loses, but then he devises a strategy that helps him start winning. Soon this attracts the attention of the casino manager, who offers him an unusual deal.

THE SUPERVILLAIN

in the Marvel Universe (first appearance in 1964)

Leland Owlsley, known as The Owl of Wall Street, counts Daredevil and Spider-Man as enemies. Since committing tax evasion, he’s been employed at the firm of Silver & Brent managing crime boss Wilson Fisk’s finances. Owlsley’s superpower is a keen sense of the business world, which includes ensuring Fisk’s dubious transactions cannot be traced. Portrayed by Bob Gunton in Marvel’s Daredevil on Netflix, the Owl is credited with the saying: “The numbers are like tea leaves. Nobody reads them like I can.”

THE VAMPIRE

in The Utterly Uninteresting and Unadventurous Tales of Fred, the Vampire Accountant, by Drew Hayes (2014)

Before becoming a vampire, quiet Fred (or Frederick Frankford Fletcher) led a pretty dull life: “Life has been…well, pretty boring, to be honest. I work as a CPA. No wife or girlfriend, but I do have a very robust film collection.” After reconnecting with an old friend, his life is filled with all sorts of wicked yet funny adventures as he attempts to survive the parahuman world filled with zombies, dragons and other interesting characters. The success of this first book led to a whole series, including Undeath and Taxes, Bloody Acquisitions, The Fangs of Freelance and Deadly Assessments.

THE VIGILANTE

in Death, Taxes and a French Manicure, by Diane Kelly (2011)

Fraudsters, beware! Special agent Tara Holloway, CPA, is here to track you down. This time, she’s pursuing an ice cream vendor who doesn’t report all his earnings and a con artist operating a Ponzi scheme. But she’s troubled by her love life: could her boyfriend be involved in one of the cases she’s investigating? As a former tax adviser, author Diane Kelly knows all the tricks of the trade. The Death, Taxes and…romantic mystery series includes 15 books featuring the CPA heroine.

THE CONQUEROR

in The Traitor Baru Cormorant, by Seth Dickinson (2015)

To liberate her people and their land from the Empire of Masks, Baru Cormorant will do whatever it takes, including discreetly joining the Empire’s civil service. Sent as a special agent to the distant province of Aurdwynn, she serves as the imperial accountant and uses her auditing skills and power of deduction to unveil a rebel plot. This book will appeal to fans of Game of Thrones.

THE PLANNER

in Right Here, Right Now, by Georgia Beers (2017)

Accountant Lacey Chamberlain likes things orderly, but doesn’t consider herself a control freak. Needless to say, when a marketing firm with “loud-music-playing, stinky-food-ordering, kickball-in-the-hall staff” moves into the office next door, it drives Lacey crazy. Enter Alicia Wright, a beautiful and bubbly marketing expert, set on getting Lacey to like her. Even though tax season is in full swing, and inspite of Wright getting on her nerves, Lacey senses a growing attraction to her office neighbour.

ACCOUNTANTS IN POPULAR CULTURE

Professional accountants definitely seem like superheroes, but movies and television don’t always get their portrayal right. However, you can still secretly enjoy these clichés about the profession we’ve seen time and again.