I’ve shared my reviews for a couple of books by Joël Dicker before, and his popularity seems to be increasing by the minute. Of course, I couldn’t resist reading and reviewing his latest book (in English).
The Enigma of Room 622 by Joël Dicker
A September 2022 Amazon Best of the Month Pick
“Dicker salutes Agatha Christie even as he drops the reader through one trapdoor into another, so that by the end, we doubt we’ve ever read another novel quite like it. (We haven’t.) Fans of Ruth Ware and Lucy Foley will hug this book in between chapters; the many readers who love Anthony Horowitz’s mysteries will celebrate. And me? I’ll be reading it again.”—A. J. Finn, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Woman in the Window
“[The Enigma of Room 622 is an] exhilarating tour de force”–The Wall Street Journal
A burnt-out writer’s retreat at a fancy Swiss hotel is interrupted by a murder mystery in this metafictional, meticulously crafted whodunit from the New York Times bestselling author of The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair.
A writer named Joël, Switzerland’s most prominent novelist, flees to the Hôtel de Verbier, a luxury resort in the Swiss Alps. Disheartened over a recent breakup and his longtime publisher’s death, Joël hopes to rest. However, his plans quickly go awry. It all starts with a seemingly innocuous detail: at the Verbier, there is no room 622.
Before long, Joël and fellow guest Scarlett uncover a long-unsolved murder that transpired in the hotel’s room 622. The attendant circumstances: the succession of Switzerland’s largest private bank, a mysterious counterintelligence operation called P-30, and a most disreputable sabotage of hotel hospitality. A European phenomenon, The Enigma of Room 622 is a matryoshka doll of intrigue–as precise as a Swiss watch–and Dicker’s most diabolically addictive thriller yet.
Translated from the French by Robert Bononno
About the author:
Joël Dicker was born in Geneva in 1985, where he studied Law. THE TRUTH ABOUT THE HARRY QUEBERT AFFAIR was nominated for the Prix Goncourt and won the Grand Prix du Roman de l’Académie Française and the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens. It soon became a worldwide success in 2014, publishing in 42 countries and selling more than 3.5 million copies. In the UK it was a Times number one bestseller, and was chosen for the Richard and Judy Book Club as well as Simon Mayo’s Radio 2 Book Club.
In May 2017 his novel THE BALTIMORE BOYS, already making waves across Europe and number one in several countries, will be published for the first time in English. Both a sequel and a prequel to THE TRUTH ABOUT THE HARRY QUEBERT AFFAIR, it will centres around traumatic events that blight the lives of the Baltimore branch of Marcus Goldman’s family.
Thanks to Netgalley and to Quercus Books for providing me with an ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.
What can I tell you about this book? I kept thinking of different accolades and even genres as I read: jigsaw puzzle, with elements of the classic mystery with an amateur (a couple) investigator, a farce (full of confusion, characters who pretend to be something/somebody they are not, pretences, hidden objects, false clues, fake identities, cheating…), a spy novel, a book set in the world of private banking and high finances, a story of thwarted love and difficult family relationships, an autobiographical book about the author and an homage to his recently deceased editor (Bernard de Fallois), a metafictional exercise about an author writing a book about a mystery (an author called Joël who has recently lost his editor and wants to write a book about him but ends up writing… something else).
This is, as is always the case with Dicker’s novels, a long book, and it jumps backward and forward in time, from the present (2018) to the time of the mystery (15 years prior) and forward and backward between those two timelines. Those who prefer straightforward narratives that follow a chronological order and are not too demanding of our attention should not attempt this book. Although the time frames are clearly indicated every time they change, any distraction could easily cause confusion. It is true that the information is rehashed and revised a number of times, because the investigators (the author called Joël and Scarlett, a woman he meets during his holiday who insists on trying his theory about writing and what would work as a good plot for a story) keep reaching cul-de-sacs and having to dismiss all the clues and suspects they had been working on, so there are options to catch up if you have forgotten any small details. In spite of that, this is one of those books that should not be read over long stretches of time, as I suspect it could become increasingly frustrating, and either it will grab your attention and keep you reading or it won’t, from pretty early on.
For those who prefer their mysteries very tight, with no loose threads and totally realistic, this novel might not work either. It does require a huge dose of suspension of disbelief (this might depend on your interpretation of the overall narrative, but I’m speaking in general terms here, and sorry, but I cannot clarify matters without toppling the house of cards), and you need to be happy to follow the characters (and there are quite a few of those, whose points of view we are offered, always in the third person apart from Joël’s, who writes in the first person) wherever they want to take you without questioning too much how plausible it all is, otherwise, you will not be able to enjoy the experience, because you will get pushed out of the story (the stories) and will no longer care what the answer to the many questions might be. So yes, you need to be happy to be taken for a ride. And quite a ride this is.
For all the reasons above, I will not try to discuss in too much detail either the plot or the characters. Let’s say that I appreciated, most of all, the comments about writing and the reflections about the nature of fiction, the homage to the editor (who might be a character in this novel but who also had a counterpart in real life), and although I kept shaking my head at the twist on twist on twist, I admire the author for daring to (try to) pull such a literary trick out of his hat, and I am sure a couple of the characters of the novel (who are skilled performers themselves) would clap admiringly at his prowess.
I am not going to reveal the ending, but you will probably imagine, by now, that the author couldn’t leave without a final twist. Did I see the twist coming? Well, which one of the many there are in the novel? I kept thinking about other books I have read about writers at work, and I must admit this is one of the most entertaining ones I have come across, and it did keep me thinking and wondering till the very end, even if at times I thought Dicker had gone too far. If you want your characters squeaky clean, nice, totally realistic, and consistent, I advise you not to read this book. Otherwise, there are no major warnings required other than the cautions I’ve shared about the way the story is written and personal preferences.
A random fact I had to mention: there is a character called Olga, and although she is not a nice person by any stretch of the imagination, she does the right thing in the end. So, I won’t take offence at the use the author makes of my name.
The other comment I’ll add is that there is a fabulous note written by the translator as part of the backmatter that illustrates beautifully the process of translating a text, especially one as complex as this novel. I also like his description of the book:
And in this way, the novel turns in upon itself, like the ever circling spirals of a gastropod shell.
The author inside of the story explains that rather than describing a series of facts, a plot should ask a question or a series of questions. And on that front, you can hardly do better than this novel. If you are happy to give it time, don’t mind books playing tricks on you, and enjoy the challenge, give it a go. It might drive you mad, but it is likely to keep you entertained and make you smile in wonder.
Thanks to the publisher, the author, and NetGalley for the opportunity, thanks to all of you for following and reading my blog, and remember to share with anybody who might enjoy it, and keep reading, smiling, and having fun. ♥