Suter, Martin - 'A Deal With the Devil' (translated by Peter Millar)
Shortlisted (probably justly) for the 2008 Duncan Lawrie International Dagger, Martin Suter's best-selling novel of altered senses is a quirky, original crime novel that has much charm and appeal.
After being attacked by her husband, and resultantly going off the rails a bit, Sonia Frey becomes synaesthetic after a hard acid trip. In other words, her senses become interchangeable: she sees noises as colours, for example, and can feel tastes. Needing a break from her increasingly stressful life, she takes a job as a physiotherapist at a new hotel in a remote Swiss village. After a while, strange events start occurring. Initially, they're dismissed as freak happenings and no attention is paid them. That is, until Sonia comes across the folklore tale of "the Devil of Milan", and realises that the strange events happening around her oddly mirror some disturbing verses in the tale. Originally no one believes her. But when more violent events start taking place at the hotel, Sonia's theory does not seem quite so outlandish…
I enjoyed A DEAL WITH THE DEVIL immensely. As a puzzle to be solved, it's excellent, as a panorama of the journey Sonia makes from beginning to end, it's mapping and illustration are also excellent. And as a meditation on the nature of reality and perception, the way people see things differently though no versions are any the less real in the mind, it is also excellent. Much of its charm and grip lies in how original it is, how intriguing the nature of Sonia's sensual disorder. It's pacey, very exciting, sometimes moving, always a puzzle that leaves you in the dark.. However, the pace means that few of the characters have much depth, apart Sonia of course, who is a superb and superbly realised protagonist. Most of the periphery characters, though, are fleshed out arbitrarily, and some of them don't seem to have much purpose at all. Pace doesn't always mean superficial characters, of course, but Suter's writing isn't good enough (or the translation, or that he just doesn't make much effort to do it) to achieve both.
Nevertheless, reading it, and finishing it and being completely satisfied, meant I wasn't bothered. I'd enjoyed it so much that it didn't really matter. The characters could have been more fleshed out but that would have been merely a bonus. Because the bottom line is that A DEAL WITH THE DEVIL is an incredibly enjoyable, gripping and dramatic book, with a lovely line in originality. It's worth anyone's time, and I would all too gladly have spent a lot more time in the company of Sonia Frey. Very good stuff.
Fiona Walker, England
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.