—Never before in his life had he known a woman throw herself at him with the hunger shown by the platinum blonde from the opera. On the back seat of the limousine, in full view through the chauffeur’s mirror, he had just been able to fight off Jojo’s attacks. But on arrival in the entrance hall of the large lakeside villa, he let himself be pulled, without resisting, first up the large staircase, then into the diva’s bedroom as if he had been a prey brought back by a lioness.***
Martin Suter’s Allmen and the dragonflies, read for German lit month, is the first book in a series concerning Allmen, a completely decadent Swiss gentleman, who has inherited wealth but, due to his lifestyle, is unable to hold onto it. Allmen owes everyone money but holds back enough to keep up appearances, for instance his opera-house membership from before he had delapidated his fortune gives him access to two cheaper tickets , one of which he sells on to a rich banker for profit and is the starting point for this book’s adventure.
The book gives us a short easy to read and slowly unravelled mystery in which Suter’s character descriptions stand out, such as the opening quote about Joëlle (Jojo), fourty something, Rohypnol taking woman who turns up at the opera with the rich banker’s ticket illustrated in the opening quote, or Carlos the resourceful Guatemalan gardener come man servant who has become indispensable to Johann Friedrich Von Allmen and who he adresses as Don John:
—The evening when he told Carlos that he would have to sell the villa, move to the gardener’s house and let him go, Carlos just nodded his head and replied ‘very well Don John’ and went back to the house in question
But the next day, whilst Allmen was seated before his breakfast and Carlos was serving him coffee, he said in his usual stiff manner:
‘Una sugerencia nada más’***
Almenn then, who becomes involved in petty art thefts which he sells to his local fence, one evening at Jojo’s father’s villa on the lake, crosses the line from anonymous petty larson to more serious theft when he finds and steels an art nouveau glass with a dragonfly decoration, one of a set of five and sells it to his local fence for 20000 Swiss Francs. All seems well until he returns with Jojo for a second torrid night hoping to get the other four glasses and to his surprise discovers all five glasses in place once again.
Before the end of the book we discover, that the glasses are worth considerably more than the 20000 Swiss Francs, murder, insurance swindles, blackmail and more. Allmen with no small thanks to Carlos skates over the thin ice and of course comes out on top. Is he more of a gentleman thief or more on the side of the law? I guess only Simon Templar would know.
First published in German as ‘Allmen und die Libellen ‘ by Diogenes in 2011
Translated into French by Olivier Mannoni as “Allmen et les Libellules” and published by Christian Bourgeois in 2011
*** My translation