Series: Allmen Detective
Book Number: 1
Read this book for: European detectives, luxury settings, gentleman detective, gentleman thief, stolen item recover, murder investigation
Quick Review: A quietly wonderful introduction to a promising series; very much an origin story but a more interesting origin than many!
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’s fortunes take a sharp turn when he meets a stunning blonde whose lakeside villa contains five Art Nouveau bowls created by renowned French artist Émile Gallé and decorated with a dragonfly motif. Allmen, pressured to pay off mounting debts, absconds with the priceless bowls and embarks on a high-risk, potentially violent bid to cash them in.
ALLMEN AND THE DRAGONFLIES is the first novel in Martin Suter’s Allmen series of detective novels, which combine some elements of noir PI novels with the European luxury of some gentlemen detectives of bygone eras.
This series follows Johan Friedrich von Allmen as he attempts to reconcile his cash issues first with some petty thievery, then with his own company doing investigative work to find missing valuable items. It’s a fairly unique twist on the gentleman thief and gentleman detective stereotypes, marrying them both in a character who is not necessarily particularly suited to either!
The characters of Allmen and Carlos, his butler and right-hand man, are really the gems in this novel. Allmen is so interesting, with these delusions of grandeur that he obviously mostly believes, and his willingness to get his hands a bit dirty in order to maintain that lifestyle. He is driven not by justice or morality or even a need to know the truth; he’s just looking for a way to pay a few of his bills so he can make it through to the next month and avoid a few of the nastier creditors — which is a far different and actually very believable motivation in comparison to many fictional detectives! Carlos is also fantastic: quietly competent, hardworking, multi-talented, and fiercely loyal, he is the perfect butler; he is Jeeves to Allmen’s Wooster. However, Carlos also has a more interesting side; he lives on the periphery of society, always conscious of his immigration status, which is not strictly legal since the expiry of his visa several months previous. Most of the other characters are simply in place to fulfill their plot functions, but that is actually ok.
The plot itself is also fairly simple; this distinctly has an ‘origin story’ feel to it. The investigation, such as it is, is fairly linear and straightforward, but again, that is ok. This book is very much worth the read just for the deep dive into Allmen’s world and his attempts to make ends meet while still trying to enjoy his life of luxury.
Matching with the fairly simple plot is Suter’s elegantly clean style. Nothing untoward or distasteful is included, and through Allmen, he occasionally waxes poetic about some of the fine things in life. This novel is not an overly fast-paced thriller, but it is a quick, clean, and occasionally sumptuous read.
The ALLMEN series is definitely one you should pick up, and ALLMEN AND THE DRAGONFLIES serves as a wonderful introduction to a promising series that I look forward to reading for years to come.
*Many thanks to New Vessel Press for the copies to review!