Ten Days
Seven deadly sins
Zero ri$k


‘Stand aside Dan Brown. Simon Hayes has concocted a remarkable page-turner of a post-covid financial thriller.’

Clive Bannister


‘A thriller bristling with energy, wit and romance. A must-read.’

Chris Blackhurst



Zero Ri$k

When customer complaints on Christmas Eve about tenfold inflated bank balances herald not early gifts, nor a botched system upgrade, but the most sophisticated cyber attack in history, National Bank Chief Operating Officer Rob Tanner finds himself in the eye of a ‘Black Swan’ storm no one predicted, but anyone could have anticipated.


The cataclysmic ‘Black Swan’ cyber attack you’ll pray never happens

23 December 2024… Rob Tanner should have been enjoying a rare day off from his life-consuming work as Chief Operating Officer at one of the country’s largest banks. But a panicked phone call from a senior colleague forces him to put his Christmas plans on ice: more than a thousand of the bank’s accounts have seen their balances increased by a factor of ten. Exactly ten. Through the inexplicably simple addition of an extra zero. And when the inflated balances prove to be neither early Christmas gifts, nor a botched computer system upgrade, but the most sophisticated cyber attack in history, Tanner finds himself in the eye of a ‘Black Swan’ storm no one predicted, but anyone could have anticipated.

Tanner enlists the help of brilliant American cyber security expert Ashley Markham, but the attacks only worsen: bank balances rise remorselessly and spread to all the nation’s banks. The only clues to the hacker’s intentions are cryptic daily emails, centred on Hieronymus Bosch’s medieval representation of the seven deadly sins—and packed with colourful artistic and cultural references—taunting Tanner and the newly incumbent Prime Minister, James Allen.

With financial markets—and the very world as he knows it—on the brink of collapse, Tanner races against the clock to decode not just the bizarre emails but their deeper meaning, and the implications for who he can really trust. All the while, his former boss “The Toad” is seeking revenge… and answers of his own.

This enthralling, multi-layered debut follows the story of a disillusioned banker facing unthinkable financial Armageddon, where money has no value, stock and bond prices are meaningless, and the economy is destroyed. Can Tanner unravel the mystery of the hacker’s obsession with Bosch, sin and retribution before modern society returns to the dark ages?

A desperate race against time

A very modern morality tale…

    … set in London at Christmas

The seven deadly sins… 


The dangers of modern technology

A ”locked system” mystery

Full of cryptic artistic and

cultural references…

…or are they clues?


Simon Hayes

Simon Hayes is an award-winning former headhunter and investment banker. His finance career took him from his home city London, where he was a top-ranked securities analyst in the Institutional Investor and Extel surveys, to the US, Hong Kong and Japan. Search led Simon back to Tokyo, where he was recognised as the “Best Headhunting Executive” in Japan by Asiamoney, then as head of a leading London-based Financial Services practice into the City’s most exclusive boardrooms.

He wrote Zero Ri$k, his first novel, whilst creating the rubriqs® people skills system. Born and raised in West London, Simon was the first member of his family to attend university, graduating from Trinity Hall, Cambridge with a degree in Law. He now lives near Tower Bridge but still spends most Saturdays following Brentford FC. He has two grown-up children, India and Ivo.


Art features heavily in Zero Ri$k.

At the heart of the novel is the masterpiece The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things—usually attributed to the Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch—completed around 1500. Although its authenticity has been questioned several times, scholars at the Museo del Prado in Madrid, where the painting is on display in a sealed case, still consider the piece to be authentic, and not the work of one of Bosch’s students.

The painting is oil on wooden panels and is presented in a series of circular images. Four small circles, detailing the four last things—Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell—surround a larger circle in which the seven deadly sins are depicted using scenes from life rather than allegorical representations. At the centre of the large circle, which is said to represent the eye of God, is a “pupil” in which Christ can be seen emerging from his tomb. Below this image is a Latin inscription, translated as “Beware, Beware, The Lord Sees.”

Other masterpieces included are: The Haywain Triptych by Hieronymus Bosch (also Museo del Prado); Time Saving Truth from Falsehood and Envy by François Lemoyne (The Wallace Collection, Marylebone); and The Lovers II by René Magritte (MoMA, New York).


If music be the food of love…

Music, too, is central to Zero Ri$k. A number of fantastic songs are mentioned, or alluded to, in the text. You’ll find them all on a Spotify playlist


Please feel free to get in touch with Simon directly;
he’d love to hear from you.


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Got questions?

What is Zero Ri$k about, and where did the inspiration for it come from?

Zero Ri$k is a financial and political thriller revolving around a cataclysmic ‘Black Swan’ cyber attack that you should pray never happens.

The premise is simple: on Christmas Day a hacker adds a zero to all the nation’s bank accounts and then, on Boxing Day, another… now what’s not to like about that? Well, other than financial Armageddon by New Year, obviously. The only clue to the hacker’s intentions are cryptic daily emails, centred on Hieronymus Bosch’s medieval representation of the seven deadly sins and packed with colourful artistic and cultural references. Are they important clues to a puzzle or just plain nonsense: psychedelic ramblings or psychotic threats? Zero Ri$k is unashamedly a modern morality tale, set in London at Christmas (now whoever had that idea before?) via detours to the US, Europe and Africa. It has short, snappy chapters and crisp dialogue, in a condensed ten day timeframe. There are dastardly bankers and dodgy politicians; an ensemble cast I hope you’ll love, and love to hate. And, at heart, it’s an everyday tale of love, loss and redemption.

There were three major inspirations for Zero Ri$k. I was worried a decade ago that the pace of technological change was outstripping all consideration of the attendant dangers – cyber-crime and terrorism, data misuse, AI, social control by the Big Tech companies, you name it. The first iPhone was only launched in 2007 but, in the years since, the relentless march of technology has only quickened, and our—and particularly our children’s—dependence on tech has become more deep-rooted. Whilst there is much that’s good, there’s an awful lot that’s not, or worse, that just gets taken for granted. Secondly, as someone who has been deeply involved in the financial services industry for many years, I was disgusted that our politicians let bankers and their enablers escape punishment for the financial crisis, and by the catalogue of scandals since: Bernie Madoff, Jeffrey Epstein, Lex Greensill and David Cameron, et al. Just recently, we’ve had the sacking of the RBS CEO, Sam Bankman-Fried’s crypto scam, Michelle Mone, the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry. It never stops. As a head-hunter, my job was to work out what made senior executives tick. Are they really any good? Do you trust them? A lot failed that basic test. Which leads onto the third piece – a feeling that we’ve been really let down by our politicians for a long time now. That they’re not focusing on the key issues and, worse, that many of them aren’t willing to speak up for what’s right rather than what’s self-serving.

Then I read a quote which I have at the start of the book: “Rather than love, than money, than fame… give me truth” (Walden, Henry David Thoreau) and it all came together in my mind! A multi-layered, race-against-time, cyber-crime thriller that hopefully will keep you awake at night turning the pages… and maybe questioning your dependence on modern technology and a lot more besides. It’s a take on the locked room mystery—a whydunnit as well as a whodunnit—centred on the modern seven deadly sins. And a thriller where the criminal may be the only one telling the truth! The novel draws on themes of responsibility, loss and loneliness (and particularly their enormous effect on love), of morality, but, above all, of truth. Choices and consequences. The protagonist—the only person who can prevent societal collapse—is someone who’s flawed because of a single life-changing mistake they made as a child. The antagonist—ultimately, the hero of the piece—is a woman so focused on changing the world for the better that she’ll risk taking society back to the days of Hieronymus Bosch. It’s a novel about the courage of the ordinary woman and ordinary man: the courage to stand up for what you think is right; the courage to face your demons; and the courage to admit when you’re wrong.

Whilst Zero Ri$k’s title refers literally to the financial risk of incremental zeroes, the novel is all about taking risks: few things in life are risk-free… falling in love, standing up for principles, speaking truth to power, and much more besides. There’s no more chance of a free zero than a free lunch.

I wrote Zero Ri$k with one overriding purpose—to entertain—and I really hope I have managed to do that. It’s a thriller, but there are references to art and music and all sorts of weird and wonderful stuff: Old Masters to OMD, Willy Wonka to Wall Street. I’ve always considered music to be an essential element of life, so if readers enjoy the challenge of decoding clues whilst reflecting on song lyrics that’s fantastic! But I also wrote Zero Ri$k because I’m concerned we don’t consider some of the risks accompanying the technological advancements we take for granted, and because I think we don’t consider some of the ills facing society in 2024. If Zero Ri$k provokes a few thoughts and raises a few questions along the way that would be a great bonus.

Absolute number one goal, though: I’d love it if readers gets to that moment where they’re reading Zero Ri$k late at night and, even though it’s late, they think “Oh, go on, just one more chapter.” (Which is why they are short chapters!). It’s just the best feeling for me personally as a reader and I would get immense satisfaction if readers of Zero Ri$k felt that same urge not to stop!

Oh yes! It’s being recorded right now by the most fantastic young actor. I feel so privileged that she wanted to take on Zero Ri$k and am really excited to hear the finished tapes. It will be a very proud—and very surreal—moment to hear my words being read out loud by a professional rather than silently in my head!


I grew up in West London. I was very fortunate to have wonderful parents who made sure I had a fantastic education, even though neither of them had benefited from one. So, I was the first person from my family to go to university. I’ve spent my life in and around finance: I was an investment banker in London, the US, Japan and Hong Kong (which gave me lots of hours on planes to read). As a head-hunter, for the last fifteen years or so, I’ve mixed with “the great and the good”: Chairmen and CEOs of major companies and their ilk, Governors of the Bank of England, and senior regulators and politicians.

I had the idea for Zero Ri$k about ten years ago. I read a lot of thrillers and yet hadn’t seen anything similar, so thought “If it’s original, why not try to write it?”. I’ve always had jobs that involve a lot of writing and creativity, but I certainly don’t come from a literary family and I don’t know any novelists. So, being an analyst at heart, I read various “How to be an author” books in the hope of inspiration. The best of them all said the same thing: treat it as a full-time job, not a hobby, and just write.

Perhaps more importantly, getting older, I realised I didn’t want to get to the end of my life and regret something I hadn’t done. We all do things in life we later regret, but to not try to do something important would have been soul-destroying. So, the summer before Covid, I took the plunge and started writing. Then, when Covid struck and we were all housebound, it was the perfect time to really focus on the book.

I hope the fact that I’ve spent a career in finance—that I’ve “walked the walk” in City boardrooms—and lived and worked abroad five times, gives Zero Ri$k authenticity. It’s often said that first novels are autobiographical, and there’s certainly a lot of me—and mine—in Zero Ri$k.

The terms that have come up most frequently in initial reviews of Zero Ri$k are: thrilling/gripping, interesting/intriguing, believable/realistic and, most of all, a genuine liking of the characters. The fact that there’s romance in a thriller seems to be a plus too.

Lastly, I do think the premise and plot are genuinely original and different. Readers will judge whether that’s good!

In writing terms, actually getting the novel finished. Having now written and published my first book, I have such unbounded respect for authors. I have always worked in ‘people’ businesses where you have colleagues to help and support you, whereas writing is you—the writer—and a keyboard. It’s a tough, lonely gig. As a novice, naïve, writer, you think that conceiving and writing the book is the journey; the be all and end all. In fact, the writing is the easy part and finishing the first draft really is just the beginning. Identifying—and finding a way to work with—the editors and other professionals who combine to get that first manuscript into a publishable final edition is the real journey. Having Helen Lewis and her wonderful team at LiterallyPR work with me has been the greatest stroke of good fortune. Independent publishing is a tough business, and it would be far, far harder and much less fun without the LitPR team.

In a broader sense, I’ve been lucky to win various awards in my career, but the biggest—well, most narcissistic! —accolade was being chosen for a GQ feature to mark the start of the Nineties (yes, I’m that old!) which got me a full-page photo in the magazine. Great for the ego; shame about the aging process.

I have three and they are completely different: A Gentleman In Moscow by Amor Towles; Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh; and the first book of Bernard Cornwell’s retelling of the Arthurian legend – The Winter King.

I first read the latter when it came out nearly thirty years ago and I must have gone back to it on paper, and in audiobook form, half a dozen times over the years. It has everything: a mythical story we all want to believe, based on history (which I’ve always loved). Fantastic characters, non-stop action, and that wonderful gift that only a few masterful authors truly give the reader – the feeling that you really are there, in amongst it all. A Gentleman In Moscow provides exactly that feeling. I’m lucky enough to have stayed in the hotel in which the novel is set—the Metropol Hotel—and I can assure you, the book gives you shivers down the spine for the sense of immediacy and presence. The writing is sublime and the plot and character development within such a simple, and seemingly unexciting, premise is fabulous. Brideshead is just a classic; I’ve lost time of the number of times I’ve read it. All three have wonderful ensemble casts.

Towles’s book has strong personal resonance for me, so if it’s one book then that’s it. Luckily, I know Brideshead and The Warlord Chronicles so well I have only to close my eyes and I can “be there.” In amidst the gleaming spires or the blood and thunder of the sixth century!