The Disappearance of Stephanie Mailer
Joël Dicker, translated by Harry Curtis
Joël Dicker is something of an enigma. The Swiss novelist has been sensationally successful on the continent, winning several awards in France for his first novel The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair, which was reputedly sold in excess of 3½ million copies worldwide.
To date, he has made rather less of a splash in the United Kingdom but anyone who has read that novel or its successor, The Baltimore Boys, will have spotted that great rarity. Not only is the novelist, who is still in his 30s, capable of writing the kind of page turners that even the most determined will be unable to put down but his work is indubitably literary.
One oddity is that, despite his nationality and success on the European continent, Dicker has set all of his novels in the United States, the latest taking place in the luxurious Hamptons and, to a lesser degree, New York City.
The rationale for this review on BTG is that the drama unfolds around the openings of two separate theatre festivals in what is ostensibly a quaint and genteel town named Orphea. The quaintness begins to disintegrate early on as we learn that on the opening night of the town’s inaugural theatre festival, four people were murdered.
The Disappearance of Stephanie Mailer is a thriller that has many of the qualities of a police procedural and would not let this reviewer go. Having spent a relatively easy day reading the first 200 pages, he did little else the following day but relish the remaining 350, desperate to know who done it, but more significantly follow the intricate twists and turns inserted by a consummate expert in his craft.
Along the way, there was also an opportunity to enter deep into the psychology of the central characters, primarily two policemen, Jerome Rosenberg and Derek Scott. They were they the officers charged with locating and arresting the murderer, which they only achieve at considerable cost.
As the story unfolds, we become increasingly interested in the disappearance of Stephanie Mailer, a dogged journalist who questions the validity of the original case and its conclusion. What develops is a story based around the 20th anniversary theatre festival then flashing back to the first.
Using the kind of ingredients that made Agatha Christie and more particularly Ngaio Marsh popular, this book builds to its thrilling finale as the detectives witness the première of a mysterious play penned by the town’s former police chief, with a cast of amateur actors plus a backstage team and audience, one of whom may, or may not, have been the original murderer.
There are far more enjoyable elements to a novel that is a pleasure to read from start to finish and should ensure that any British readers who missed the first two novels will be entranced by to the special talent of Joël Dicker.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher