A missing girl, small-town secrets and literary ambition drive this busy, entertaining debut thriller, already a best-seller in Europe.
Young author Marcus Goldman hopes his mentor, the famous American novelist Harry Quebert, can help with the writer’s block afflicting his sophomore effort. Then their 2008 reunion in Somerset, N.H., is disrupted by the discovery of the remains of Nola Kellergan, who was Harry’s very underage 15-year-old girlfriend at the time she disappeared in 1975. Dicker moves deftly between the two periods, as Harry is jailed for Nola’s murder and Marcus seeks to exonerate him by delving into and writing about the old case. The 1975 narrative forms a book within the one covering 2008 events. Dicker throws in digressions on boxing, swipes at the publishing trade and Harry’s 31 writing rules. Add a cast almost as corny as that of the board game Clue: There’s the wealthy bachelor and his horribly disfigured chauffeur, the Southern preacher who blasts music to mask a terrible noise, the timid cop infatuated with the former prom queen who loves the famous writer who adores, alas, the jailbait beauty. Ah, Nola: She’s sexy, devoted and resourceful before she’s buried with a manuscript of Harry’s best novel right where the gardeners, 33 years later, want to plant hydrangeas in his yard. Dicker keeps the prose simple and the pace snappy in a plot that winds up with more twists than a Twizzler. He might have done without the chauffeur’s grotesque speech impediment and the sitcom chats Marcus has with his meddlesome mom. Nola’s precociousness strains plausibility, and a demon ex machina out of Alabama is one twist too many—or maybe it’s Dicker enjoying himself too much.
He doubtless was hoping, like his characters, for a best-seller, and he’ll probably succeed on these shores as well with this sprawling, likable whodunit, obvious ballast for the summer’s beach totes.