Reinhold von Rumpel is the villain of the story who is driven by his ambition to succeed and his desire for power. His skill as a gemologist allows him to advance to a prominent position within the Nazi party, and von Rumpel enjoys the luxury and power this position gives him. He also believes in the ideology of the Nazi state and likes the idea of bringing glory to his country. He simply ignores the context that the treasures he is acquiring are being seized from occupied territories and from individuals who are being imprisoned, killed, or sent to horrific concentration camps. While he likes to contribute treasures to the Nazi state, von Rumpel’s obsessive pursuit of the Sea of Flames diamond is also linked to his personal desire for power. He suffers from cancer and longs for the immortality that the diamond is rumored to confer on anyone who possesses it. He believes that he can eventually wield power over life and death, if only he can obtain the diamond.
Reinhold von Rumpel is a cruel and ruthless man, but he also exhibits some moments of emotional complexity. He regularly tortures people in order to extract the information he needs to track down the diamond, and von Rumpel is very patient and unmoved by the suffering other people experience. However, he is also psychologically astute and understands which tactics will most likely break through a person’s defenses and get him the information he wants. For example, when von Rumpel questions the curators at the Museum of Natural History, he threatens their children because he knows this will make them give up the information he seeks. Even while von Rumpel displays such cruelty, he also thinks lovingly of his own children at various points in the narrative. This affection adds complexity to his character by revealing that he does have some capacity for caring. Thus, von Rumpel, like all the characters in the novel, acts in emotionally complex ways.