Written by Andrew Martin — With his series featuring Jim Stringer investigating crimes on the Edwardian railways and non-fiction titles exploring famous rail journeys and the London Underground, it’s fair to say that Andrew Martin is a train obsessive. But trains wouldn’t really work in a novel about the super-rich. As we learn from this book, Mayfair’s Tube station, Down Street, closed in 1932 because the wealthy had no need for it. In The Yellow Diamond, Martin switches his focus to private jets, Aston Martins and Lamborghinis, and an 80-metre cruise ship.
It might sound like the backdrop to a James Bond adventure, but this atmospheric novel is largely based in London’s Mayfair (apart from a brief jaunt to Nice and a trip to the North York moors). Detective Superintendent George Quinn was head of a specialist unit investigating the super-rich, which allowed him to hob-nob with rich foreigners in order to investigate money laundering, jewel theft and art crimes. When he’s shot in St James’s Park, there’s suspicion about the involvement of a pair of Russian oligarchs.
The Yellow Diamond gets off to a brisk start with a brace of violent incidents: the shooting of Quinn in St James’s Park and the stabbing of a hedge fund manager, who had recently admitted to insider trading. With the tense opening scene featuring this ill-fated financier fearing his taxi is being tailed home to Hampstead, Martin establishes his masterful control of the gripping set piece.
Yet it’s slightly misleading as The Yellow Diamond doesn’t involve bodies piling up. It’s the first book in a potential series that’s as much about a detective attempting to fit in with a particular social milieu as it is the rather murky investigation. While Quinn (now in a coma) grew up on a country estate and had the privileged background that made it easy to move in such circles, his acting replacement is a northerner who grew up on a housing estate. When DI Blake Reynolds returns home and informs his partner he’s been transferred to a unit investigating the super-rich, she responds: “That’s ironic.”
Reynolds has to pass muster among the wealthy by ditching his Marks & Spencer suit for something more upmarket, as well as getting to grips with the luxury brand names: Hackett, Aquascutum, Smythson. There’s also a comical scene where he has to smoke a cigar with a socially inept Texan financier. Amid all this ostentatious wealth, the suspicion soon forms that Quinn was corrupted, and ultimately shot, by the Russians. Reynolds inherits Quinn’s assistant, Victoria Clifford, though it sometimes seems she’s in charge of him. From the switching perspectives in the novel, we know she’s hiding information from Reynolds. They make for a fascinating, awkward couple.
The yellow diamond of the title is really a sub-plot that involves the audacious theft of a 2.5 carat diamond ring. Reynolds’s investigation into that crime brings him into contact with Anna Samarina, a Russian he once had a brief flirtation with who happens to be the daughter of the oligarch under suspicion for Quinn’s killing. As Reynolds’s relationship crumbles, he clings to the hope that Anna remains innocent.
With recent reports about the London property market being inflated by foreign criminals laundering money, The Yellow Diamond is undoubtedly a timely novel. But you do have to suspend disbelief and accept the idea that the Metropolitan Police would establish an Operational Command Unit to investigate the super-rich, who apparently don’t play by the rules (which is probably how they got rich in the first place).
If it seems fanciful for a fictional detective to be tasked with investigating the obscenely wealthy, there’s a clear sense that Martin is using a clever, elegantly plotted crime novel to expose how the city has been skewed by money from dubious sources. JK Rowling’s crime debut as Robert Galbraith featured murder in Mayfair and exposed inequality – but Martin goes much deeper into the shadowy world of the super-rich. While it’s not a typical procedural, The Yellow Diamond is a captivating crime novel full of witty dialogue and sharp-eyed insights about London and the dangerous influx of wealth.
Read our new interview with Andrew Martin here.
Faber & Faber
CFL Rating: 4 Stars