A retired Swiss advertising exec is hired to inspect a wealthy banker’s mining outfit in Merz’s debut novel.
After his wife dies, 45-year-old Tom Sutter trades in his office desk for a surfboard in Hawaii, where he settles with his children. Tom anticipates a beach-filled future, until he receives a call from a former partner, Swiss banker Beat Vischer. Vischer purchased a mine in Utah and hires the reluctant Tom to help with marketing by investigating it. Problem is, this is no ordinary mine. Utah’s Wah Wah Mountains are one of few locations in the world that produces red emerald—“the rarest gemstone on earth,” with a history marred by violence and greed to prove it. Immediately upon arriving, Tom discovers Mormon miners whose teeth are rotting from soda and jelly beans, a startlingly low production rate and other questionable problems. More perplexing are the shady figures overseeing the mine, most notably Byron Coots, company CEO and chairman, who’s up to some dirty dealings. Tom’s mission turns dangerous when someone attempts to kill him, ultimately leading him to meet lovely gemologist Ming Cheng, who reminds him of his late wife. Tom’s suspicion spikes when he and Cheng discover a red emerald elsewhere, unearthing numerous scandals and rapidly increasing mining-related cancer rates in Utah. Tom becomes an unlikely hero, though it’s initially difficult to care about him. His early retirement and new life seem to raise his stakes, but Merz spends too little time with him at the beginning; in fact, Tom flashes a smile after more or less being pushed into the job, expressing little motivation or regret for taking it. Likewise, a few spelling errors and awkward syntax hold things up, especially in light of the rapid-fire plotline that jumps around in time, place and perspective. Painfully direct exposition also sometimes leaves scenes lacking emotional intensity, as when Tom seeks revenge on the man he believes attempted to kill him: “He hates Jim who pushed him over the edge and now plays Samaritan.” But beyond technicalities, the compassionate story—mostly set in the early to mid-2000s in numerous exotic locales—has moments of true suspense and insight into a corrupt industry largely untapped in fiction, presented here with intrigue from an insider’s eye.
A compelling tale plagued by awkward prose.