Book Review / Montecristo by Martin Suter

Rodney Jensen reviews Montecristo by Martin Suter, translated from the original Swiss version in 2015.

I don’t intend to traverse the ins and outs of the story, because to say very much would inevitably spoil the ending—for this is mainstream conspiracy and crime genre, designed to ramp up the tension as the story progresses.

The main character, Jonas Brand, is a frustrated video journalist who works for a lifestyle news outlet, but would really prefer to be a film producer. He leads the life of a middle-class yuppie and lives in a well-appointed apartment in Zurich. By chance meeting, he starts a relationship with an attractive and sensual woman—Marina.

Then a peculiar incident occurs in which he discovers that two separate Swiss Franc bank notes in his possession have exactly the same serial number. One of the bank notes comes from an ATM, the other from a recent transaction in a restaurant. Brand immediately realises that this should never be possible, and decides to unravel the circumstances by which such a glitch should have happened. In making this decision he seems oblivious to the risks he will be taking if the duplication has been intentional.

Brand interviews officials at the highest level of the Bank involved, and soon finds himself drawn into a conspiracy involving a chain of players stretching across the globe as far as South-East Asia. In Thailand he narrowly escapes false drug charges, mirroring the theme of his elusive film project.

But the premise based on duplicate bank notes is the fundamental weakness of this novel. Even if there were a large number of duplicates in circulation, the likelihood that they should come into the possession of one person seems impossibly remote. This is admitted during an interview Brand has with a bank official. There is also the further improbability that their sameness would be noticed. When was the last time that you checked the serial number on any of the banknotes in your wallet?

This novel comes wrapped in a cover claiming “#1 Bestseller”. Having read the story, it seems like self-aggrandisement, and it’s difficult to believe anyway. On the positive side, the novel in translation is well-written and the narrative at times sweeps the reader along at a fast pace. I particularly liked the descriptions of the winter environment and various Swiss cityscapes. The Jonas and Marina characters are well-drawn in some respects, although I didn’t find either of them particularly likeable. Overall, the novel stumbles on a flimsy and predictable plot. The lead character has a naiveté about the world, his career and his relationships which is difficult to fathom.

Rodney Jensen is an author of speculative fiction. Visit him at his website and his Facebook page. He is a member of the Northern Beaches Writers Group (and has published contributions in one recent and two upcoming joint publications). He is a member of MEAA, ASA, NSW Writers’ Centre and holds a Doctorate in urban design from UNSW.

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