Copyright © 2014 by Joel Dicker
“Jesus, Marc, have you heard?”
“My God, turn on the T V! It’s about Harry Quebert! It’s Quebert!”
I put on the news. To my amazement I saw the house at Goose Cove on the screen and heard the presenter say: “It was here, in his home in Somerset, New Hampshire, that author Harry Quebert was arrested today after police discovered human remains on his property. Initial inquiries suggest this may be the body of Nola Kellergan, a local girl who at the age of fifteen disappeared from her house in August 1975 and has never been seen since.” The room began spinning around me, and I collapsed onto the couch in a daze. I couldn’t hear anything clearly anymore—not the TV, nor Douglas, at the other end of the line, bellowing, “Marcus? Are you there? Hello? He killed a girl? Quebert killed a girl?” In my head, everything blurred together like a bad dream.
So it was that I found out, at the same time as a stupefied America, what had happened a few hours earlier: That morning a landscaping company had arrived at Goose Cove, at Harry’s request, to plant hydrangea bushes. When they dug up the earth, the gardeners found human bones buried three feet deep and had immediately informed the police. A whole skeleton had quickly been uncovered, and Harry had been arrested.
On TV screen they cut between live broadcasts from Somerset and from Concord, sixty miles northwest, where Harry was in police custody. Apparently a clue found close to the body strongly suggested that here were the remains of Nola Kellergan; a police spokesman had already indicated that if this information was confirmed, Harry Quebert would also be named as a suspect in the murder of one Deborah Cooper, the last person to have seen Nola alive on August 30, 1975. Cooper had been found murdered the same day, after calling the police. It was appalling. The rumble grew ever louder as the news crossed the country in real time, relayed by television, radio, the Internet, and social networks: Harry Quebert, sixty-seven, one of the greatest authors of the second half of the twentieth century, was a child predator.
It took me a long time to realize what was happening. Several hours, perhaps. At 8 p.m., when a worried Douglas came by to see how I was holding up, I was still convinced that the whole thing was a mistake.
“How can they accuse him of two murders when they’re not even sure it’s the body of this Nola?” I said.
“Well, there was a corpse buried in his yard, however you look at it.”
“But why would he have brought people in to dig up the place where he’d supposedly buried a body? It makes no sense! I have to go there.”
“New Hampshire. I have to defend Harry.”
Douglas replied with that down-to-earth Midwestern sobriety: “Absolutely not, Marcus. Don’t go there. You don’t want to get involved in this mess.”
“Harry called me . . .”
“About one this afternoon. I must have been the one telephone call he was allowed. I have to go there and support him! It’s very important.”
“Important? What’s important is your second book. I hope you haven’t been taking me for a ride and that you really will have a manuscript ready by the end of the month. Barnaski is shitting bricks. Do you realize what’s going to happen to Harry? Don’t get mixed up in this, Marc. Don’t screw up your career.”
On T V the state attorney general was giving a press conference. He listed the charges against Harry: kidnapping and two counts of murder. Harry was formally accused of having murdered Deborah Cooper and Nola Kellergan. And the punishment for these crimes, taken together, was death.
Harry’s fall was only just beginning. Footage of the preliminary hearing, which was held the next day, was broadcast on T V. We saw Harry arrive in the courtroom, tracked by dozens of T V cameras and illuminated by photolighting, handcuffed, and surrounded by policemen. He looked as if he had been through hell: somber faced, unshaven, hair disheveled, shirt unbuttoned, eyes swollen. His lawyer, Benjamin Roth, stood next to him. Roth was a renowned attorney in Concord who had often advised Harry in the past. I knew him slightly, having met him a few times at Goose Cove.
The whole country was able to watch the hearing live as Harry pleaded not guilty, and the judge ordered him remanded into custody in New Hampshire’s State Prison for Men. But this was only the start of the storm. At that moment I still had the naive hope that it would all be over soon, but one hour after the hearing, I received a call from Benjamin Roth.
“Harry gave me your number,” he said. “He insisted I call. He wants you to know that he’s innocent, that he didn’t kill anybody.”
“I know he’s innocent,” I said. “Tell me how he’s doing?”
“Not too great, as you can imagine. The cops have been giving him a hard time. He admitted to having a fling with Nola the summer she disappeared.”
“I knew about Nola. What about the rest?”
Roth hesitated a second before answering. “He denies it. But . . .”
“But what?” I demanded.
“Marcus, I’m not going to hide it from you. This is going to be difficult. The evidence is . . .”
“The evidence is what? Tell me, for God’s sake!”
“This has to stay a secret. No one can know.”
“I won’t say a word. You can trust me.”
“Along with the girl’s remains the investigators found the manuscript of The Origin of Evil.”
“I’m telling you, the manuscript of that damn book was buried with her. Harry is in deep shit.”
“What does Harry say?”
“He says he wrote that book for her. That she was always snooping around his home in Goose Cove, and that sometimes she would borrow his pages to read. He says that a few days before she disappeared, she took the manuscript home with her.”
“What? He wrote that book for her?”
“Yes. But that can’t get out, under any circumstances. You can imagine the scandal there’d be if the media found out that one of the bestselling books of the last fifty years is not a simple love story, like everyone thinks, but based on an illicit affair between a guy of thirty-four and a girl of fifteen . . .”
“Can you get him released on bail?”
“Bail? You don’t understand how serious this is. There’s no question of bail when it comes to capital crimes. The punishment he risks is lethal injection. Ten days from now his case will be presented to a grand jury, which will decide whether to pursue charges and hold a trial. It’s just a formality. There’s no doubt there will be a trial.”
“And in the meantime?”
“He’ll stay in prison.”
“But if he’s innocent?”
“That’s the law. I’m telling you—this is a very serious situation. He’s accused of murdering two people.”
I slumped back on the couch. I had to talk to Harry.
“Ask him to call me!” I said to Roth.
“I’ll pass on your message.”
“Tell him I absolutely have to talk to him, and that I’m waiting for his call.”
Right after hanging up, I went to my bookshelves and found my copy of The Origin of Evil. Harry’s inscription was on the first page:
To Marcus, my most brilliant student
H. L. Quebert, May 1999
I immersed myself once again in that book, which I hadn’t opened in years. It was a love story, mixing a straight narrative with epistolary passages, the story of a man and woman who loved each other without really being allowed to love each other. So he had written this book for that mysterious girl about whom I still knew nothing. I finished rereading it in the middle of the night, and contemplated the title. And for the first time I wondered what it meant: Why The Origin of Evil? What kind of evil was Harry talking about?
Two days passed, during which the DNA analyses and dental impressions confirmed that the skeleton discovered at Goose Cove was indeed that of Nola Kellergan. The investigators were able to determine that the skeleton was that of a fifteen-year-old child, indicating that Nola had died more or less at the time of her disappearance. But, most important, a fracture at the back of the skull provided the certainty, even after more than thirty years, that Nola Kellergan had died from at least one blow to the head.
I had no news of Harry. I tried to get in touch with him through the state police, through the prison, and through Roth, but without success. I paced my apartment, tormented by thousands of questions, plagued by the memory of his weird call. By the end of the weekend, I couldn’t take it anymore, and I decided that I had little choice but to go to see what was happening in New Hampshire.
Revue de presse
One of Us Weekly’s 4 “Stories for a Sunny Escape”
One of The Hollywood Reporter’s “10 Hot Summer Beach Reads”
One of Minneapolis Star Tribune’s “5 Mysteries You Must Read”
One of Parade’s “20 Best Summer Books”
One of Houston Chronicle’s “21 Summer Book Recommendations”
One of New York Post’s “29 Best Books of the Summer”
One of Tampa Bay Times’s “Best Books for Summer Reading”
One of Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s “Best Books for Your Summer Reading List”
One of The Daily Beast’s “Hot Reads”
“Unimpeachably terrific . . . A playful, page-turning whodunit . . . If Norman Mailer had been accused of murder and Truman Capote had collaborated with Dominick Dunne on a tell-all about it, the result might have turned out something like this. Though I suspect this version may be funnier. . . . It’s [Dicker’s] light touch and engaging voice that make the writing so infectious, and will probably make it a best seller here as well.” —Chelsea Cain, The New York Times Book Review
“I haven’t had a suspense novel surprise me like this one in a long time. Joël Dicker is a bright new star of suspense, and he proves his serious chops with this utterly thrilling, delightfully twisted, continually shocking novel. I can’t wait to read what he writes next!” —Lisa Gardner, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Fear Nothing
“A dazzling thriller—stunningly original and brilliantly plotted, down to the very last twists. It’s a murder mystery, a literary puzzle, and a love story, all ingeniously woven into a masterly novel of suspense. Joël Dicker is an enormous talent, and this book is extraordinary.” —Linda Fairstein, New York Times bestselling author of Death Angel
“Talk about a web of treason and danger: This one unfolds with a relentless sense of urgency and pulse-pounding escapades, entertaining at every turn. Absolutely rousing.” —Steve Berry, New York Times bestselling author of The King’s Deception
“Planes, trains and automobiles: You’ll see people reading this book everywhere. An amazing debut and wonderful summer read from a writer to watch.” —Michael Harvey, bestselling author of The Chicago Way
“The great American crime novel . . . A breakneck thriller.” —Details
“A terrific read . . . Entertaining . . . Cleverly constructed . . . It’s compelling, challenging, sometimes even funny. The characters are finely drawn. . . . It keeps you, as they say of movies, ‘on the edge of your seat.’ ” —The Huffington Post
“An intense, well-crafted mystery . . . This is a big book with a small cast, lots of layers with a variety of suspects who have the means, the motive and the opportunity. . . . Come for the big, literary mystery, and brag about the prizes when you’re done. Vacation time at a Somerset mansion not included.” —KQED, “Great Lit Perfect for Summer Reading”
“Entertainingly pulled off . . . Enjoyable . . . It churns along at such a good clip and is rendered with such high emotion and apparent deep conviction that it’s easy to see why it was a bestseller in Europe. It’s likely to be one in this country, too.” —The Washington Post
“A wonderful, fun, and boisterous read, a book with an uncanny ability to both fascinate and amuse you. Twists and turns and oddball characters make this a rollicking bullet-train of a novel.” —Amazon.com, Best Book of the Month
“A highly entertaining mash-up of melodrama, metafiction and mystery [with] a slick page-turning plot.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Charmingly off-kilter . . . Sure-footed . . . No wonder it’s already a best seller in Europe.” —The Daily Beast
“[A] funny, plot-twisting mystery.” —Women’s Day, “New Favorites from the Women’s Day Staff”
“Stunning . . . Fast-paced, tightly plotted . . . From page one, you’ll be hooked on this fascinating mystery of love and deception.” —National Examiner
“Smart and fun.” —Houston Chronicle
“A clever, tightly plotted thriller with a comic edge.” —Tampa Bay Times
“A unique thriller . . . A page-turning police procedural . . . This dramatic, original first novel has made Joël Dicker a famous writer in Europe, and may do so in America as well.” —Concord Monitor
“Moves at break-neck speed . . . I enjoyed it and got wrapped in its ambitious, multi-layered story.” —Oline Cogdill, Mystery Scene
“A sensational story, imaginatively related. . . . Dicker does what every gifted crime writer does: he makes the reader slowly realize that there are any number of potential killers. . . . It’s first-rate deception. . . . [You’ll] be surprised again and again [and] find yourself reading faster and faster. Dicker has clearly mastered the art of creating suspense.” —CounterPunch
“Fast-paced . . . Dynamic . . . A captivating murder mystery as well as a compelling love story.” —Shepherd Express
“Is Harry worth the hype? I have to say ‘yes.’ . . . It’s 600-plus pages that I kept reading. . . . The plot has more dark twists and turns than a drug lord’s tunnel. . . . Nothing—repeat—nothing is as it seems. . . . We are completely hooked.” —Irma Helman, Open Letters Monthly
“An ambitious, multilayered novel of suspense . . . This tale of fame, friendship, loyalty, and fiction versus reality moves at warp speed.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
“This sprawling, likable whodunit [is] obvious ballast for the summer’s beach totes. . . . Dicker keeps the prose simple and the pace snappy in a plot that winds up with more twists than a Twizzler. . . . [An] entertaining debut thriller.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Tantalizing . . . Compelling . . . There is a Twin Peaks–like fascination to the story of Nola Kellergan. . . . Readers are certain to be caught up in the ongoing drama of who killed Nola among the plethora of suspects.” —Booklist
“The cleverest, creepiest book you’ll read this year . . . The most talked-about French novel of the decade . . . Breathtakingly plotted . . . Addictively fast . . . It’s like Twin Peaks meets Atonement meets In Cold Blood. . . . The New England setting [is] immersively convincing. . . . Very few foreign-language novels make big waves in Anglophone countries, but this one seems genuinely likely to buck the trend.” —The Telegraph
“Spellbinding . . . a top-class literary thriller . . . It is maddeningly, deliciously impossible to guess the truth.” —The Times
“A phenomenon . . . A page-turner . . . Compulsively easy to read.” —The Observer
“With enough plot twists to fill a truck, it is a racy read. . . . Part master-and-disciple tale, part whodunnit, Mr. Dicker’s thriller is also a postmodern confabulation of timelines and stories, in the manner of Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life.” —The Economist
“[An] In Cold Blood–style investigation of a Twin Peaks–like town . . . A smart, immensely readable, impressively plotted page-turner [that] keeps the surprises coming right up to the closing pages. . . . An immersive, propulsive, continually wrongfooting twister of a tale, it should delight any reader who has felt bereft since finishing Gone Girl, or Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy.” —Metro
“A seductive read—big, assertive and clever . . . Expertly told . . . Hard to resist . . . Well-crafted and highly enjoyable.” —The Independent
“Dicker has the first-rate crime novelist’s ability to lead his readers up the garden path. . . . An excellent story.” —Sunday Express
“[It] does well . . . what all good thrillers should: it twists and turns. . . . [It] has the pleasing spryness of one of Jessica Fletcher’s outings [in Murder, She Wrote]. . . . Just like a [Harlan] Coben novel, it’s very enjoyable.” —The Guardian
“A scintillating, page-turning debut . . . Expertly paced . . . tautly written . . . A powerful novel about passion, jealousy, family, redemption, friendship and love, The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair is a Great American Novel—written by a European.” —The Bookseller
“Fabulous, clever stuff . . . This extraordinary thriller . . . grabs you, its characters so intriguingly flawed and pulsating that you simply can’t stop reading. . . . The real genius of this work is in its incredible construction, diving forwards and backwards with multiple storytellers.” —The Australian Women’s Weekly
“If you dip your toes into this major novel, you’re finished: you won’t be able to keep from sprinting through to the last page. You will be manipulated, thrown off course, flabbergasted and amazed by the many twists and turns, red herrings and sudden changes of direction in this exuberant story.” —Le Journal du Dimanche
“A funny, intelligent, breathtaking book within a book . . . There is a real joy in discovering this extraordinary novel.” —Lire
“A master stroke . . . A crime novel with not one plot line but many, full of shifting rhythms, changes of course and multiple layers that, like a Russian doll, slot together beautifully . . . In maestro form, Dicker alternates periods and genres (police reports, interviews, excerpts from novels) and explores America in all its excesses—media, literary, religious—all the while questioning the role of the literary writer.” —L’Express
“The success story of the literary season . . . An American thriller reminiscent of the best work of Truman Capote.” —Paris-Match
“Dizzying, like the best American thrillers . . . Rich in subplots and twists, moving backwards and forwards in time, containing books within books.” —Le Figaro
“After The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair, the contemporary novel will no longer be the same. Verdict: summa cum laude. . . . A beautiful novel.” —Corriere della Sera
“Narrative talent is about making a work of art out of life. Dicker has got it.” —Vanity Fair
“A book within a book, a crime novel, a love story. Extraordinary.” —Cosmopolitan
“Brilliantly narrated.” —Stern
“A novel with all the ingredients of a global bestseller.” —Die Zeit
“A story brimming with such intelligence and subtlety that you can only regret that it has to end. A novel that works on so many levels: a crime story, a love story, a comedy of manners, but equally an incisive critique of the art of the modern author.” —Elsevier
“A novel that calls to mind the journalistic investigations of Truman Capote, the murder plots of Donna Tartt and the romantic scandal of Nabakov’s Lolita.” —NRC NEXT
“Packed with action, psychological drama and . . . extraordinary suspense.” —NRC Handelsblad
“Captivating and enchanting . . . a true literary adventure.” —Algemeen Dagblad
“Wonderful dialogue, colorful characters, breathtaking twists and a plot that allows no pause for breath . . . Everything is perfectly woven together to create an irresistible story in which absolutely nothing is as it seems.” —Trouw
“Never have I felt so compelled to recommend a book this highly. . . . I was mesmerized and fascinated long after I had finished reading. . . . It has echoes of Twin Peaks and Death on the Staircase, John Grisham, Psycho, The Exorcist, and The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving.” —La Vanguardia
“This book will be celebrated and studied by future writers. It is a model thriller.” —El Periódico de Catalunya
“Masterful . . . The great thriller that everyone has been waiting for since the Millennium Trilogy of Stieg Larsson.” —El Cultural de El Mundo