Martin Rosenstock’s essay on Swiss Crime fiction in Crime Fiction in German discusses the works of Hansjörg Schneider and Urs Schaub as contemporary examples of the form. As neither have been translated into English, I turned to Martin Suter, who won the Friedrich Glauser prize in 2007. Curiously his winning novel, Der Teufel von Mailand (2008) has yet to be translated. So I started with The Last Weynfeldt, published in 2008, translated by Steph Morris, and finally published earlier this year by New Vessel Press.
The Last Weynfeldt is not, as I expected, the painting on the book jacket, but the protagonist, Adrian Weynfeldt, an art expert and a very rich bachelor in his mid-fifties. Born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he has been collecting and inheriting even greater wealth ever since. Impeccably mannered, polite and good-natured, his money has protected him from the unsavoury ways of the world resulting in a naïvety that endears him to many and yet opens him to exploitation by more unscrupulous characters. He has many acquaintances from the younger generation of artistes and such like, but as the novel progresses it becomes clear that they tolerate him only because he is happy to be finance their dinners, art projects, films, etc. He knows this too, but remains happy to accommodate them. Money really is no object to him and their communal dinners at least provide him with some company.
A singleton following a tragic love affair in his youth, he is usually very circumspect when it comes to the opposite sex. Yet all that is tossed to the wind when he meets Laura, an off-balance and unpredictable woman, who reminds him of his lost love. You’d think the warning bells would sound when she threatens to throw herself off his balcony following their first night together. (You can read an excerpt about that here.)
Laura is a grifter and she keeps him at the end of a string, dancing to her tune. When she enters into a partnership to blackmail Weynfeldt out of millions, it is hard not to worry on his behalf. Whatever could she have on him to give her such ambitions?
This is where the painting comes in. In a parallel development, Weynfeldt is approached by a family acquaintance to auction a painting for him. The rub is the painting at the auction is most likely a forgery with Weynfeldt fully cognisant of the fact. Why would a man of Adrian’s integrity do such a thing risking his reputation and career, the only things that give his life meaning? Has he fallen into the trap that has been set for him?
Suter pulls some lovely sleights of hand here with an obvious nod in the plot to Stefan Zweig’s The Invisible Collection. I also learned much about how to detect an art forgery, and I was really fearful for Adrian (as a result of Suter’s Zweig-like psychological analysis.) Thankfully the author had a denouement up his sleeve that still makes me chuckle. It’s a brilliant ending to a gentle yet fascinating crime novel.
And I will definitely seek out more, if not all, of Suter’s oeuvre.