I live in New York City, where I write thrillers about diamonds. My interest began when news broke of a diamond discovery in the Canadian Arctic. A reporter looking for a story, I climbed on a plane the next day. The discovery made Canada the world’s third largest diamond miner—one of the stories told in my non-fiction book, Diamond: the History of a Cold-Blooded Love Affair. I went on to write about diamonds for many publications, including Vanity Fair and the London Times, until finally, seduced by the glitter of the possibilities, I turned to fiction. The Russian Pink appeared in November 2020. The next in the series, Ice Angel, comes out in September.
The Russian Pink
What is my book about?
The Russian Pink sends Treasury agent Alex Turner and his lover, the Russian femme fatale and diamond thief known as Slav Lily, on a chase from the old diamond city of Antwerp to the dangerous beaches of the South African diamond coast as they rush to discover the truth behind a fabulous pink diamond. Racing against time, they must unravel the secret scheme of Harry Nash, an unscrupulous, dashing titan, and Matilda Bolt, a powerful U.S. Senator—an intrigue that entangles the dark forces of government and a transnational business empire with the megawatt allure of the stunning jewel. It’s a scorpion of a plot with a stinger in the tail!
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Gerald A. Browne,
Why this book?
I have a special fondness for 11 Harrowhouse, the 1973 thriller that spins the tale of a huge theft of rough diamonds from The System, a fictional London diamond powerhouse modeled on the real-life De Beers. When I started writing about diamonds, De Beers was still the Darth Vader of diamonds—all-powerful, feared, despotic. More than eighty percent of the world’s rough diamonds poured through its London headquarters at 17 Charterhouse Street. In the novel, thieves thread a hose from the roof into the diamond vault, and hoover up the loot. In reality, a different method was used to steal diamonds from De Beers’s London fortress, which I described in my non-fiction book, then re-tailored for my own purposes in The Russian Pink.
Koh-I-Noor: The History of the World's Most Infamous Diamond
Why this book?
Part of the value of diamonds comes from how avidly people steal them. The cat-burglar on the French Riviera. The miner swallowing a stone and trying to make it past the x-ray at the gate. Or the conquerors, snatching jewels from one turban after another as they ride through history. That last is the story of the Koh-i-Noor (Mountain of Light), told with his usual panache by William Dalrymple, the celebrated historian of Mughal India, in this non-fiction account. It falls to Dalrymple’s co-author, journalist Anita Anand, to track the jewel though it's last, decidedly inglorious change of ownership—stolen by the British from the Maharaja Duleep Singh, when imperial forces prevailed upon him not only to sign away the Punjab, but also to make a “gift” of his family’s famous diamond to Queen Victoria. Sure, the Maharaja did in fact sign the document. But he was 10 years old.
Most people came to know the story of Eric Ambler’s 1962 nail-biter through its smash-hit film adaptation—Topkapi. Melina Mercouri played Elizabeth Lipp, who, on a trip to Istanbul, spots a replica of the famous jewel-encrusted Sultan’s Dagger at a fair. She visits the Topkapi Palace museum to view the original. Enter a dashing Swiss master criminal played by Maximilian Schell. They cook up a plot that involves lowering an acrobatic, mute thief from a window in the roof, to steal the dagger from its vitrine. Crucial to the scheme is that the dangling man does not touch the floor, where the slightest weight would trigger the alarm. The scheme goes astray through the ineptitude of an accomplice, but I won’t spoil it by telling you what happens. When I saw this as a kid, the star was the dagger. The biggest jewels—on the hilt—were emeralds, but I’m including it in my list because the scabbard was studded with diamonds.
This is another great diamond yarn where the movie by Alfred Hitchcock is better known than the book. A series of high-end robberies is plaguing the French Riviera. Police suspect that retired jewel thief John “The Cat” Robie may not be as retired as he claims. They come to arrest him. Robie escapes. To prove his innocence, he persuades an insurance broker to give him a list of the wealthiest diamond owners on the Cote d’Azur, so he can intercept and apprehend the new “Cat” committing the robberies, and thus clear his name. On the list is a wealthy American, with whose daughter, played by Grace Kelly, Robie develops a romance. The plot plays out in the ravishing landscape, but the real message is the diamond industry’s favorite—that owning diamonds makes you part of a glamorous world.
Marian Fowler’s lavish non-fiction account tracks the storied diamond from its origins in India, where it was bought by the great French jewel merchant Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, who sold it to Louis XIV. Weighing 110 carats in the rough, the blue was eventually cut into a heart-shaped jewel of 67.13 carats, known to history as the French Blue. In the turbulent early days of the French Revolution, all the crown jewels were moved from the Palace of Versailles to the Garde-Meuble, a treasure house in central Paris. On the night of September 11, 1792, thieves broke in and stole the jewels. Many were recovered, but the French Blue vanished forever. Too famous to be sold as it was, the London jeweler who eventually bought it, cut it down to 44.5 carats—the jewel sold to Henry Philip Hope in 1830. The Hope diamond passed through many hands, leaving behind a trail of ruin, betrayal, and death. No wonder people line up to see it at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., where it is the museum’s most popular attraction.
We think you will like
The Essence of Style: How the French Invented High Fashion, Fine Food, Chic Cafes, Style, Sophistication, and Glamour,
East End Underworld: Chapters in the Life of Arthur Harding
if you like this list.
DeJean is a master storyteller, and in Essence of Style, she shows how many fashionable aspects of the modern world came into being during the reign of the French King Louis XIV. For Louis XIV, power, glitter, and glamour were synonymous, and he was a trendsetter par excellence. (After all, if his nobles were spending all their money on clothes and diamonds, they couldn’t muster the funds to rebel against the king.) Mirrors, champagne, diamonds, hairdressers, haute cuisine, perfume, and folding umbrellas all gained traction within Louis XIV’s court, and DeJean traces the emergence of each new luxury in sumptuous detail.
Published in 1868, The Moonstone is a terrific story of stolen Indian jewels, fraud, murder, and true love that cracks along at a pace that belies its age. Rachel
Verrinder should have inherited the Moonstone from her wicked uncle for her
18th birthday but the fabulous diamond is stolen. Rachel seems to fight any attempt to recover the diamond and, in the process, spurns Franklin Blake, who she loved. But why? If you’re wary of Victorian fiction, start here – you’ll love it!
In a series of interviews, Arthur Harding tells us of his life as an East End rogue at the turn of the century. The characters he encountered are a “Who’s Who” of the underworld at that time and his descriptions of Spitalfields were very useful to me during research for The Worst Street In London.