The Fear Index

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This article is about the novel by Robert Harris. For the index often nicknamed the 'fear index', see VIX.
The Fear Index
First edition
Author Robert Harris
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Thriller
Publisher Hutchinson
Publication date
29 Sep 2011
Media type Print (Hardback)
Pages 323 pp
ISBN 978-0-09-193696-9
OCLC 741542228

The Fear Index is a 2011 novel by British author Robert Harris. It is set in a period of roughly 24 hours from the 6 May 2010—the date of the British general election and the Flash Crash. It follows the interactions of a group of employees at Hoffmann Investment Technologies, a fictional hedge fund operating in Geneva.


The story begins as Dr Alex Hoffmann, an American expat living in Switzerland, and the founder of his eponymous hedge fund, receives a first edition copy of The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. Hoffmann is mystified that the book's subject relates to his theory on fear, and even more that there is no indication of who sent it. That night Hoffmann is attacked in his home by an unknown assailant. The police inspector, Leclerc is skeptical about the validity of Hoffmann's story.

The next morning he proceeds to his company, where his charismatic British CEO, Hugo Quarry, is pitching for a renewed investment from the firm's existing clients. They seek to utilise Hoffmann's genius with algorithms into a system, named VIXAL-4, which can provide sufficient data on the markets to generate successful hedges.

Hoffmann's wife Gabrielle is approached by Leclerc at her art gallery. Leclerc informs her that when Hoffmann was at CERN, he suffered a nervous breakdown. Later Gabrielle confronts Hoffmann, who brushes it of as being nothing important. Suddenly it is announced that all of Gabrielle's artwork has sold to an anonymous collector. Gabrielle suspects that Hoffmann is behind it and storms off.

Hoffmann eventually tracks down the assailant to a hotel room. Where Karp the assailant, attacks him. In the struggle Karp's neck breaks.

Over the course of the business day the situation becomes unstable, with VIXAL assuming a level of risk considered unsustainable by the human staff, and they strive to shut it down. As this happens Hoffmann also begins to suspect that he is losing his mind.


Writing in The Guardian, literary critic Mark Lawson called the novel gripping, and described it as 'a speedy read, [which] is the appropriate medium for a story in which many of the key events... take place in milliseconds'.[1] The Observer called it 'thoroughly enjoyable',[2] while Charles Moore in The Daily Telegraph wrote 'The Fear Index is a frightening book, of course, as, with its title, it intends. Harris has an excellent sense of pace...'[3]


Robert Harris has written a screenplay adaptation of the novel, for a film to be directed by Paul Greengrass and produced by 20th Century Fox.[4]


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