If you are looking for a 700 page tongue-in-cheek thriller with more twists and turns than a David Lynch noir movie, then this is the book for you. You definitely will not slog your way through this book. You may, however, find yourself in a labyrinth along with many choice suspects. The chapters are short, fast paced, and with enough action to keep the reader turning pages reluctant to put the book down.
Joel Dicker is a young Swiss writer who has written an international blockbuster, translated into 37 languages. The book has won three prestigious literary prizes, the National Book Critics Circle Award and the National Book Award, pretty heady stuff for such a 28 year old.
The story takes place in the small seaside New Hampshire town of Somerset. Dicker spent his summers in Maine and is comfortable depicting small town Americans. The story is told in the first person, narrated by Marcus Goldman who is a 28 year old novelist who after a highly successful first novel, is suffering from writers’ block. As his publishing deadline draws near, he goes to visit his old college mentor, Harry Quebert (who is also a famous writer, but a one book sensation) with the hope that he will be able to help him. The year is 2008 and staying at Harry’s cottage, Marcus one day discovers an old box filled with memorabilia and photos of a summer 33 years before, when Harry was 34 years old and fell madly in love. This was no ordinary love, however. A la Lolita, the object of Harry’s obsession, is a 15 year old girl named Nola Kellergan. Now the story moves rapidly as we are taken back to the summer of 1975, a summer when Nola mysteriously disappears.
Just as mysteriously in 2008, a body is discovered on Harry’s property and not surprisingly, it turns out to be that of Nola. Found in the grave with her is an original copy of Harry’s famous book, “Origin of Evil.” As the prime suspect, Harry is jailed. As Marcus witnesses these events, his writers’ block disappears and he decides to write a novel based of the murder. In doing so he becomes involved with the investigation of the case and is determined to prove his old mentor’s innocence.
Dicker’s genius lies in his intricate plot development. Just when you begin to think you know the murderer, another development happens which leads to a completely different suspect. When I first began reading, I thought the writing style was like reading a graphic novel. The wording is simple and devoid of deep description. The characters reveal themselves through their speech. Soon I realized that author had presented us with a satire. The characters are comic archetypes of a small town types. The publishing world is presented as rapacious and money driven. Marcus’s mother is desperate to find him a wife. There is a rich recluse, with a strange chauffeur, which adds another layer of mystery. Harry’s involvement with Nola is creepy and he appears a pedophile, yet I kept reading.
Stylistically, the book is unusual, but the story is intricate and a page-turning thriller. If you enjoy dark mysteries, noir movies, and a satirical twist, then you will enjoy this book.