This second novel in the Allmen series lives up to expectations; the standard was set pretty high by Allmen and the Dragonflies last year. Allmen and the Pink Diamond has the same verve and charm as the original. Suter is a consummate crime writer, his style is light and fast paced but has real depth when it comes to characterisation and understanding human nature. The overall impression is one of enjoyment; Suter knows how to entertain and Allmen and the Pink Diamond is at times wickedly funny and always slightly eccentric. There’s an eclectic cast of characters and brief cameos all finely sketched. Ostensibly, this is about the theft of the Pink Diamond, but naturally there’s a lot more going on here than meets the eye. Allmen will have to negotiate his way past some very shady characters and a plethora of lies to find the prize. Fans of Suter will not be surprised that there is a modern theme underpinning this seemingly straightforward heist mystery.
Allmen is in London, he has scrounged a meeting room at Grant Associates in Knightsbridge from his old school chum Tommy. He is nervous as he waits for a new client to arrive. Montgomery may have a big job and heaven knows Allmen International Inquiries need the money. Well, Allmen does, if only to maintain the kind of lifestyle to which he has been accustomed all his life. The distasteful alternative of selling the treasures from his Schwarzacher villa to fund his luxurious living always upsets him. Allmen and his associate Carlos (who is also the butler/gardener/factotum) are proponents of “the art of tracing art”. It doesn’t translate into German so it’s on the business cards in English. Now that they have recovered the dragonfly bowls they have a reputation in the field (in truth that’s the only job so far and they got a bit lucky there!). Montgomery arrives and it’s straight to business. His client recently purchased a pink diamond at auction for the staggering sum of 45M Swiss Francs (roughly £30M). But since the night his wife wore it at a party the jewel has gone missing. They have a suspect, Artyom Solokov, but they don’t want to bring in the authorities and the man has gone to ground. Hence the need for a discreet third party. Allmen is squeamish about the subject of money but the standard contract terms are 10% recovery fees + expenses. Montgomery scratches that out and writes 4% instead, as he lays a retainer of £10,000 on the table Allmen is in no mood to argue. Montgomery hands over a folder on Solokov, a Russian born in Yekaterinburg, now a free lance IT consultant. Pocketing the retainer Allmen treats himself to a beer, a new suit and an upgrade of his hotel suite.
Allmen then flies home to Switzerland where Carlos picks him up at the airport. Allmen originally employed Carlos as a gardener, without any concern over his immigration status (the Swiss take a dim view of illegal aliens), his talents in other fields became apparent when Allmen got himself into a financial mess. Now Carlos, his partner, points out that they are not equipped for this job – that’s the truth. However, he knows there is no way Allmen is going to give back the money. So now they need a strategy for finding Solokov and Carlos Santiago de Leon is better at that than Allmen. The chase is on, they try Solokov’s last known address but the estate agent says other debtors are on his tail and he has fled. Allmen begins to suspect he is being followed too. When he does finally catch up with Solokov he is side-tracked by the beautiful Vanessa. Carlos tries to get his to focus. Who are the men in the shadows watching Allmen and Solokov? Unless Allmen and Carlos figure out what is really going on they won’t get a penny for this job..
Once again Allmen breezes through life assuming the tab will picked up by somebody else, his excesses are moderated by Carlos. The relationship between the two men and the way that they bounce off each other is really entertaining. You might ask who really is in charge? Carlos is smart and grounded (he’s got a penny or two in the bank), he is a perfect foil for Allmen’s extravagance and selfishness. Obviously a case this size is beyond them, Allmen has an eye for art fraud and Carlos is a clever man, but they are not trained investigators. Still, they keep plugging away until they shake loose some answers – luck or judgement they might just solve this mystery. They are likable characters, there is no doubt we are on the side of the broke bon vivant and the man with hidden talents. Minor characters also add to the fun.
There’s a mild cynicism about human nature here, Suter takes delight in subverting norms and readers expectations. This may be the art world but it’s down and dirty, money after all talks. Suter makes brilliant use of the tropes; the femme fatale, the McGuffin, the shady world of corporate power and money. The mannered and cultured setting is a great contrast for the skulduggery being practiced. I see a universal theme developing with the first two novels: it all about the con, but who is conning who? Allmen and the Pink Diamond is translated by Steph Morris. There are more novels in the series, I hope we get to see those in English too.
Paul Burke 4/4
Allmen and the Pink Diamond by Martin Suter
New Vessel Press 9781939931634 pbk Mar 2019