Book Review: The Disappearance of Stephanie Mailer by Joël Dicker
La disparition de Stephanie Mailer: originally published in French and translated into English by Howard Curtis.
“The darkest night“—Four people are murdered and so begins the intertwining of the lives of the inhabitants of Orphea, along with others who have been connected to this small town at some time in the lives.
It’s a ‘gripping thriller’— In the summer of 1994, the quiet seaside town of Orphea reels from the discovery of four murders.
Dicker takes us back and forth from the original event to 20 years later when Stephanie Mailer disappears. The events are told through the eyes of 3 main characters, police officers, two of whom originally investigated the four murders and one who leads the investigation into the disappearance of Stephanie Mailer.
Each of the key characters provides their own narrative of events throughout the book.
Initially, I wondered if this style, swapping between the decades and from one narrator to another might become tiring and subtract from the main storyline. In just a few short pages it became clear this would be a welcome pattern rather than a distraction.
The Disappearance of Stephanie Mailer – the setting
Set in a small seaside town in the Hamptons, with each of the key characters giving their experience of events, you are transported between the decades but also from narrator to narrator. The details from each person vary but Dicker managers to bring out great detail without the reader feeling bogged down in unnecessary minutia. In fact, as the plot grows I found myself almost wondering, what (certain characters) were doing at this time?
Dicker never failed to bring valid memories in at the right point. His timing is impeccable with swapping the narrative from one to another, it flows, and each narrative slowly builds until you see the whole picture of events not only from the original 1994 murders but through to 2014 and the disappearance of Stephanie Mailer.
The phrase “the darkest night” makes a frequent appearance throughout with its meaning not becoming clear for quite some time. As the story deepens others are bought into the dialogue, again with their individual memories and recollections of events leading up to and following the murders and disappearance.
The story. The plot.
Whilst the story plot centers on these events there is a great kaleidoscope of mini-stories, notwithstanding, career disappointments, family challenges, broken romances, drug use, and characters attempting to fulfill their dreams and passions. All whilst dealing with daily life and the pressures that abound in trying to make one’s mark on the world. There are twists and the final result came as a surprise to me, and I did need to read to the end to find the conclusion.
I was delighted that there is a summary of where the key characters were two years after the case had been solved. It was almost a feeling of closure and catching up with friends and what they had been up to in the time since the main story ended.
Whilst the story is about the disappearance of Stephanie Mailer it is about much more than just one missing person.
Dicker’s style brings the story to life in an almost ‘investigative journalist fashion’ with individual points of view, memories, and in great detail. His background in law I believe shines through his attention to detail.
I have always thought it is life’s experiences that contribute to the making of a truly great novelist, but Joel Dicker has proved this is not the case. I thoroughly enjoyed his style and storytelling.
The author: Joël Dicker
Joël Dicker is a popular Swiss novelist who won his first award in 2010 at the age of 25, Prix des Ecrivains Genovois. In 2012 he was awarded the Prix Goncourt des lyceens for his book La verité sur l’Affaire Harry Quebert, which has been translated into 32 languages and displaced Dan Brown’s Inferno from the bestseller list across Europe. It has been one of the biggest original acquisitions by Penguin books and made into a 10-part television mini-series. Dicker holds a master’s in law.
The translator: Howard Curtis
Howard Curtis is a British translator of French, Italian and Spanish fiction. He won the 2013 Marsh Award for Children’s Literature in Translation for his translation from Italian of In the Sea there are Crocodiles by Fabio Geda Here you’ll find a Q&A with Howard Curtis, where he gives this advice to aspiring literary translators: “Read as much as you can, in both the language you’re planning to translate from and your own language (after all, you need to know your own language very well if you’re going to translate into it). And pester publishers as much as possible!”
Joël Dicker is a master storyteller, his talent shines through and I highly recommend this intriguing book.
Have you read The Disappearance of Stephanie Mailer or any other books by Joël Dicker? Please share in the comments section below.