Kirkus Reviews QR Code
THE DEVIL OF NANKING by Mo Hayder Kirkus Star

THE DEVIL OF NANKING

By Mo Hayder

Pub Date: April 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-8021-1794-5
Publisher: Grove

A superb third thriller from Hayder (The Treatment, 2001, etc.), who sends a troubled young Englishwoman to Tokyo in search of evidence about a half-century-old war crime.

For reasons she initially only hints at, Grey is obsessed with the 1937 Nanking massacre, a monthlong orgy of atrocities perpetrated by the Japanese army on Chinese civilians. Learning that a Chinese man who witnessed those atrocities possesses filmed footage of one particularly monstrous event, she sets out to confront Shi Chongming in Tokyo, where he is a visiting professor of sociology. The story alternates between Grey’s odyssey in Tokyo’s darker corners and Shi Chongming’s bitter diary of the ten months leading up to the Nanking massacre. Grey hooks up with Jason, a creepy American expat with a morbid sexual interest in violence, who gets her a job as a hostess at a nightclub. There, she meets Fuyuki, an elderly, ailing gangster whose terrifying “Nurse” fortifies him with a mysterious medicine. It turns out Shi Chongming desperately wants to know what this medicine is; he promises to show Grey the film if she finds out, but warns her that Fuyuki and his Nurse are exceedingly dangerous. Hayder ratchets up the tension as Grey gets closer to the gruesome secret of Fuyuki’s medicine, and as Shi Chongming’s diary chronicles his ordeal in Nanking. But this isn’t just a nail-biter; her heroine is a damaged woman whose emotional and physical scars are gradually revealed to have grim links to the ultimate atrocity Shi Chongming witnesses in Nanking. As the narrative bloodily approaches a final, horrific pair of revelations, you realize that finding out what happened doesn’t answer the real question here. What Grey and Shi Chongming, who have both ignorantly precipitated unspeakable tragedies, desperately need to know is: Is there any difference between ignorance and evil if the consequences are the same? The answer brings scant comfort to either of them.

Served up with explicit gore that is not for the faint-hearted, but even more haunting than it is shocking as the author urgently addresses basic, agonizing existential issues.