The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair

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Expecting to like this better. It is by Swiss author Joel Dicker, but it's set in the USA, specifically in my beloved New Hampshire.

Accentuating the positive first: the plot is good, in a twisty way. It's 2008, and acclaimed writer Marcus Goldman has a serious case of writer's block, totally unable to get any purchase on the followup to his first book. Worse, his equally famous mentor, Harry Quebert, is in trouble, for the corpse of a 15-year-old girl, Nola Kellergan, has been discovered, long-buried on Harry's property. Nola's been missing since the fall of 1975, when a neighbor lady reported seeing her being pursued through the woods by a madman. (And the neighbor lady is murdered herself a few minutes later.)

Casting suspicion on Harry is the inconvenient fact that he and Nola had a totally inappropriate relationship back in 1975. (Not quite on the Lolita scale—the relationsip is unconsummated, and Lolita was younger—but close.) The original manuscript of Harry's blockbuster novel was buried with her, together with an incriminating inscription!

Marcus decides to travel up to Harry's home in the quaint seacoast village of Somerset, New Hampshire to offer support to his old friend. He quickly decides to start his own investigation, which (it turns out) will unwrap a very sordid onion of perversion, corruption, and violence. The book shifts (mostly) between 1975 and 2008, revelations piling up in both time periods.

The problem is that this promising plot is explicated with cardboard characters, plastic dialog, and leaden prose. I am not a high-standards fiction gourmet by any means, but I found everything except the plot to be embarrassingly bad.

Part of the problem may be the translation from the book's original French; kind of like a wonderful Chinese movie getting ineptly dubbed by idiots who don't understand either Chinese or English very well. The book was apparently a "#1 international best seller", and the front matter has a lot of quotes from European sources attesting to its wonderfulness. So maybe.

Not that it matters, but I couldn't help but notice: the New Hampshire setting is very fictional. There's no "Somerset", and the geography described in the book doesn't seem to relate to any actual place. Some of the book happens in Concord, which is an actual place, and the book locates some state offices on Hazen Drive, true enough, but—bzzt!—puts Hazen Drive in the center of Concord, which it isn't.

Last Modified 2024-01-27 6:19 AM EDT