Set in the tangled world of finance, politics and the media, Monte Cristo is a pacy thriller full of betrayal and underhand tactics – a sharp and entertaining demonstration of the topical maxim that some banks are simply ‘too big to fail’.
Video journalist Jonas Brand is on a rail journey from Zurich to Basel when stock trader Paolo Contini appears to throw himself from the train to his death. Brand sets his footage of the aftermath of the incident aside to investigate a strange coincidence: two 100-Swiss-franc banknotes bearing the same serial number have come into his possession. Sensing an opportunity to graduate from celebrity journalism to serious investigation, he has the banknotes analysed, with bizarrely contradictory results. It dawns on Brand that Contini’s ‘accident’ might somehow be connected to the dubious bank notes. With the help of his former colleague Max Gantmann, a respected TV financial journalist gone to seed, Brand discovers that a major Swiss bank has been colluding with the printers to acquire vast quantities of banknotes with duplicate serial numbers. Contini had run up huge losses and seems to have been done away with before he could inform the regulator.
Meanwhile Brand’s half-abandoned feature film project – an updated version of The Count of Monte Cristo – unexpectedly receives funding, and Brand narrowly avoids being caught with planted drugs during a police raid on his hotel. Someone wants him off the case for good. When Max dies in a house fire, Brand realises he cannot trust anyone anymore. He ends up being kidnapped and brought face to face with the Swiss Finance Minister and the Swiss National Bank supremo. He is warned that his findings would destroy the Swiss financial industry, causing untold economic suffering. Finally, Brand discovers that his film colleagues and the press are all members of a prestigious, conspiratorial society – the Lily Club – that has been stymying his investigation. The novel closes with the premiere of Monte Cristo, attended by Switzerland’s great and good: a happy ending with the bitter aftertaste of compromise and defeat.
Monte Cristo is a lively, finely-tuned read and a real pageturner. Brand endears himself to readers as a bungling amateur in a world of establishment villains. The novel would translate brilliantly onto the screen and seems certain to continue Suter’s success in English.
All recommendations from Spring 2015