Sunday, July 21, 2019

Allmen and the Dragonflies: Martin Suter

This book was an unusual choice for me. I picked it up in the bookstore on the mystery shelves, knew nothing about it. I loved the cover, but I did check the blurbs and description on the covers before I purchased the book. The story sounded interesting and it was set in Switzerland. Crime fiction set in Switzerland isn't the easiest to find. (Suggestions are welcome.)

Here is the description of the protagonist of this book, from the back of my edition:
Johann Friedrich von Allmen, a bon vivant of dandified refinement, has exhausted his family fortune by living in Old World grandeur despite present-day financial constraints. Forced to downscale, Allmen inhabits the garden house of his former Zurich estate, attended by his Guatemalan butler, Carlos. When not reading novels by Balzac and Somerset Maugham, he plays jazz on a Bechstein baby grand. 

Allmen has expensive tastes and questionable morals. He isn't afraid to break the law to add to his available funds. Even so, he refuses to lower his expenditures in order to live on the money he takes in, and ends up in enough debt that one of his debtors begins to threaten him. Initially he solves  this problem by stealing a very valuable Art Nouveau bowl with a dragonfly motif. This leads him into even more trouble.

This book doesn't fit the usual crime fiction format and assumptions; it is quieter, not full of action or  excitement. The English-language publisher bills this as a "thrilling art heist escapade" and I think that is misleading. There is crime, there is even a murder, but the only puzzle is how Allmen will solve his problems. All of that was fine with me, I just want to be clear that this is a low-key mystery, not a thriller.

I found this to be a charming read and well worth spending time on. I liked the two main characters, Allmen and his companion, Carlos, and Allmen's dire situation is handled with subtle humor. The story is a good length, under 200 pages. There are four further books featuring Allmen, but only the second has also been translated into English. Reading this book also made me curious about Martin Suter's other books.


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Publisher:   New Vessel, 2018 (orig. pub. 2011)
Length:      186 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Series:       Allmen #1
Setting:      Zurich, Switzerland
Genre:        Mystery
Translation:   Translated from German by Steph Morris
Source:      I purchased my copy.


15 comments:

  1. This sounds different and interesting. I'm always slightly amused when a book is billed as something that it clearly isn't. So thanks for setting the record straight.

    I read crime book for last year's European Reading Challenge. It was Swiss Vendetta by Tracee De Hahn. It wasn't bad, not brilliant, but but I liked the setting beside a Swiss lake.

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    1. That is funny, Cath. I went back to see your review and I had commented on how hard it is to find books set in Switzerland. The book does look interesting, and I saw you had reservations. But the setting does sound good. So thanks for the reminder. I have put it on my list to look into.

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  2. "Crime fiction set in Switzerland isn't the easiest to find."

    There's a chap called Dürrenmatt ...

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    1. You are right, Roger. I should have known about Dürrenmatt, since I have read reviews of his books. For some reason I thought his books were set in Germany, but now maybe I will remember this in the future. I do have a copy of The Pledge somewhere.

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  3. This sounds great, Tracy. I like the setting, and the mystery sounds engaging. I admit I've not read his work before, but he sounds worth searching out. As for work set in Switzerland, may I suggest Friedrich Glauser's Sgt. Studer mysteries if you've not read them yet.

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    1. Margot, I did find Friedrich Glauser when I looked for books set in Switzerland on Stop You're killing me, but I have forgotten that I had heard about him earlier from you. Thanks, and I will look for some of his books.

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  4. I much prefer a low-key mystery to a thriller - and I'm happy that I now have one set in Switzerland on my reading list. Thank you!

    (According to fantasticfiction.com, Suter has written several other books, including a sequel to Allmen and the Dragonflies)

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    1. I am glad this one sounds good to you, Debbie. I will check out Fantastic Fiction and look for more books by this author in English.

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  5. Some suggestions ...

    "The Judge and His Hangman" by Friedrich Durrenmatt, who also wrote "Suspicion" and "The Pledge" which I enjoyed but did not find quite as excellent as "The Judge ...".

    "... and Presumed Dead" by Lucille Fletcher.

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    1. Thanks, Christophe. Now that I have looked up Dürrenmatt, I see that his Inspector Barlach Mysteries would be good to try also. And thanks for the point to the book by Lucille Fletcher, that one also sounds good.

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    2. For the Fletcher book, here is a review by Kate the Armchaireviewer (and a few minor additional thoughts of mine)
      https://crossexaminingcrime.wordpress.com/2019/05/27/and-presumed-dead-1962-by-lucille-fletcher/

      As to the Barlach Mysteries, I believe that the book with that title simply is a collection of two novels, "The Judge and his Hangman" and "Suspicion."

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    3. Thanks for that link, Christophe. I enjoyed the post and your comments. I did see that post when it came out but must have missed that it was set in Switzerland. And it looks like it won't be too hard to find a copy.

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  6. I don't think I have read any Swiss crime books. this one sounds good: I always like an art world setting.

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    1. I know, Moira, the book has so many things going for it. John Grant at Noirish just reviewed The Last Weynfeldt by Suter, also set in the art world, and I am going to be looking for that one.

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  7. Not a book with a massive appeal for me, though I'm glad you liked it. Margot beat me to it with the Glauser suggestion.

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