Saturday, January 14, 2023

Joel Dicker - The Enigma of Room 622

"One night in December, a corpse is found in Room 622 of the Hotel Verbier, a luxury hotel in the Swiss Alps. A police investigation begins without definite end, and public interest wanes with the passage of time.
Years later, the writer Joel Dicker, Switzerland's most famous literary ingenue, arrives at that same hotel to recover from a bad breakup, mourn the death of his longtime publisher, and begin his next novel. Little does Joel know that his expertise in the art of the thriller will come in handy when he finds himself investigating the crime. He'll need a Watson, of course: in this case, that would be Scarlett, the beautiful guest and aspiring novelist from the next room, who joins in the search while he tries to solve another puzzle: the plot of his next book.
Meanwhile, in the wake of his father's passing, Macaire Ebezner is set to take over as president of the largest private bank in Switzerland. The succession captivates the news media, and the future looks bright, until it doesn't. The bank's board, including a certain Lev Levovitch-Geneva's very own Jay Gatsby-have other plans, and Macaire's race to the top soon becomes a race against time... A matryoshka doll of a mystery built with the precision of a Swiss watch. Joel Dicker presents a diabolically addictive thriller where a love triangle, a power struggle, shocking betrayals and dangerous envy play out against the backdrop of a not so quiet Switzerland, where the truth twists and turns into something no reader will see coming. A European phenomenon, Dicker's latest page-turner is his most personal novel yet"

Comment: Months ago, I've agreed to read this book along with two other members of a GR group I belong to. We've agreed to the beginning of January and I was quite eager because I had read the author's greatest hit, which I didn't find perfect but compelling and I was curious to see if the same style would be found in a different book by the author, which it did.

In this book, the author himself is a character and he is telling us how he came to be convinced, while on holidays at the Hotel Verbier, to write the story of what happened years ago at that hotel, on room 622. The author is given room 623 and he notices there's room 621 and 621 bis, not the 622. Along with Scarlett, another client of the hotel, who recognizes him as a famous writer, they investigate why this came to be: someone had been killed in that room. The more they investigate, the more confusing the clues are regarding the members of a very important bank in Switzerland who had a huge weekend event which resulted in murder. But since the lives of everyone have moved on, will Joel and his now fellow friend Scarlett find the truth?

This is yet another big book (my edition has more than 600 pages) by the author and I've ended up thinking the exact same thing about it as I had about the other book I had read by the author, the story is addictive to read but some plot choices felt a little contrived.

The story takes place mostly in the Verbier hotel and that alone helps create a certain vibe, as if people are in a world of their own and it's easier to imagine scenarios and possible mysterious circumstances... however, as it had happened with the other book and, I assume, it's the author's style, there is a lot of going back and forth between what is happening now, described by the author and what his investigation consists of and what happened in the characters' past, which helps to conduct the reader into knowing some details but also creating certain expectations.

Portuguese cover
The whole thing works out quite well and the chapters aren't too big, meaning we get the feeling things are moving on quickly and that we turn the pages easily. But I must say there were times this alternating of the narrative moments felt a bit tiring and repetitive. Some passages felt like they were being forced on the reader too much, I had to suppose because it mattered or to reinforce an idea which would be key at the end but... it made for a few repetitive situations and that made some chapters boring.

The plot is, at its chore, truly creative. The author must have plotted and imagined things for a long while before putting things into writing, there's a lot of detail to bear in mind, too many small things, apparently mundane which end up being more important than what I anticipated. I would say, however, that when we get the final explanation, the resolution of the mystery, after many twists and counter twists, some things were a little too hard to believe. Not impossible, as the author so cleverly developed, but a bit far fetched... In a way, this is why the story works and impresses, but on the other hand, it made me think "really?"...

The characters seemed to be very predictable in some moments. I think their characterization wasn't too deep nor psychological on purpose. We are made to think their actions and decisions are based on obvious things, like being well in life, having power, having money... it does seem they aren't too complex besides easy human emotions (love, greed, desire, need, congeniality, friendships) but deep down, there's more to them after all. I can't say I liked any without reserve but I liked knowing what happened to some at the end.

The murder in the hotel, in my opinion, wasn't actually the most decisive moment of the whole thing. The author planned things in such a way that what the reader discovers now isn't a big deal, the real mystery happened for a very simple reason and the base of it wasn't as violent as one might imagine. I think the book is very easy to read and that helps but I would say that, apart from the flashy and original twists, the actual story line isn't that complicated or ingenious. It's like a good disguise: if done well, deceives one well too. 
Grade: 8/10

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