August 18, 2009
Alan Robertson’s “Diamond” is a story of deception, greed, and betrayals, one following another until the maze of double-crosses resolves itself in a satisfying conclusion. The title character, Diamond, is the type of beautiful blonde woman every man dreams of being with, and the type of woman who knows how to use her beauty to get what she wants—amateur detective, Jack Tramp, is, unfortunately, all too willing to give in to her at the wrong moments, but what warm-blooded man can blame him when she is so stunningly luscious and desirable? Jack isn’t the only man in this novel who succumbs to her feminine wiles.
The story starts when Jack Tramp, in need of some money to tide him over before he receives his inheritance from his recently deceased uncle, agrees to do some private detective work for a stranger to whom his lawyer-friend introduces him. Jack is asked to search for a young musician named Jimmy because Jimmy’s parents are concerned that they haven’t heard from their son in a long time. After asking around, Jack finds out Jimmy has been at a local ski lodge, but he has difficulty actually getting to talk to Jimmy; instead, he finds himself involved with Ronny and Diamond, both of whom have their own reasons to want to get ahold of Jimmy—Ronny for money-making reasons and Diamond, because she is in love with him. Jimmy is in high demand because he has written a song that music mogul, Pico, stole and made into a top hit, although Jimmy, who doesn’t listen to the radio because it cramps his creativity, remains unaware of it. Ronny is working for Pico, trying to get a copy of Jimmy’s original handwritten version of the song so Jimmy cannot find out and sue Pico. Meanwhile, Jack manages to get ahold of the original song lyrics. Enter Diamond—she also wants the lyrics, and in return, she’s willing to give Jack something he hasn’t had for quite some time.
Besides a beautiful seductress interfering with his private investigator duties, Jack is faced with a dispute over his inheritance when a woman named Maxine shows up claiming to be his deceased uncle’s common-law wife and pregnant with Uncle Harry’s child. Jack already has to split the inheritance with his cousin, Larry, but he’s willing to talk to Maxine, the new claimant to the inheritance, while Larry resents her and storms about screaming that she is lying and trying to cheat them. When Jack starts to have feelings for Maxine, the plot only gets more complicated.
Robertson’s entertaining novel reads like an old film noir, with Jack, who starts out thinking himself fairly intelligent, continually having his ego dropped down a peg as he finds that one person after another, from new acquaintances to old friends and relatives, cannot be trusted. Readers may shake their heads here and there when Jack makes a mistake out of human weakness, unable to see he is being betrayed, but the scheme of his bamboozlers is so complicated, particularly because the bad guys are all interested in cheating each other as well, that no reader will untangle the direction this novel will go.
The first-person narration allows the reader to get to know Jack, to sympathize with him, and to understand his motivations. One passage that wins over the reader is:
Then I was thirty-five, and drifting from job to job, sometimes leaving Hunter for a few months, but always returning, no better than I’d left, maybe worse, certainly older. Then a few years ago, forty slipped by and I began to wonder where the time had gone, and whether there was enough left of me to work with and make something of. But I never found it. Never found the sustained passion to do anything well and to the fullest of my ability for long enough to be considered good.
In other passages, Robertson writes tight, compelling dialogue that reveals more about the characters, particularly the villains, than paragraphs of description could accomplish:
Ronny rubbed his fingers indicating I’d used up the allotment of time purchased by the first of the bills. I dropped another on the table; he eagerly snatched it up. “She’s in the City.”
All around, “Diamond” is a satisfying and enjoyable read. Jack Tramp is a likeable protagonist and one with whom, because of his flaws and self-questioning, male readers will empathize. Robertson portrays Jack as always having a sense of humor, and while occasionally foolish, the reader does feel he deserves a bit of a break.
Readers of Robertson’s previous novel, “The Money Belt,” will find “Diamond” just as enjoyable, with the same type of fast-paced storyline, yet more complex with brighter criminals. In the end, I couldn’t help wanting to know what became of Jack Tramp next—he would make a great lead character for a series of mystery/suspense novels.
— Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D., and author of The Marquette Trilogy
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