The Enigma of Room 622

 

I enjoyed The Harry Quebert Affair so the prospect of a mystery room in a hotel complete with intrigue and murder from the same author appealed to me. It takes the form of an author (supposedly Joel Dicker himself) staying at the aformentioned hotel where he stumbles upon a murder mystery which must be solved.

However, this aspect for me didn’t ever quite work. It seemed to me as if he never quite worked out how to juggle his sections with the retrospective telling of the actual story and in the end, it almost gave the impression of him almost adding in superfluous half-chapters at various stages at the end of the writing process having forgotten how he had set it all up. 

The book could have been redeemed if only for this but unfortunately it misfires for other reasons too. For a start, it is far too long. The build up to the murder, the victim of which we discover about four fifths of the way through, is painfully slow. Much of the detail is unnecessary and mundane. Which is a shame as the last fifth is genuinely clever and full of twists. That said the whole thing could have been far slicker and more concise and it would have lost nothing. Indeed it would have gained from the streamlining process. 

Finally, and most crucially, the writing just wasn’t very good. Now I am aware that the book is a translation from its original French. Impossible to know whether this is the problem or not but it really does read like a summary. The whole way through. The language is so simple and there is next to no description. As such it just got quite boring. 

Had this been shorter, it might have worked but ultimately, there are better books out there to spend your time reading. 

The Murder Game

This is a murder mystery set over new years which I somehow managed to read inadvertently over new years! I enjoyed Hindle’s first book – A Fatal Crossing – so was keen to see what this one was like. Perhaps not quite as good this one but still an enjoyable traditional murder mystery with all the twists and turns one expect with a group of suspects stuck in an old hotel together. It didn’t try anything particularly new but if you like a good old fashioned Agatha Christie style whodunnit, you will probably enjoy this. 

The Romantic

This one I had been saving up and it did not disappoint. While it didn’t have quite as great an impact as Any Human Heart had on me, it was nevertheless a masterclass in writing. Every word counts with William Boyd. The story is as exciting and imaginative as it is enthralling. The fact that the events through which the main character lives and the situations in which he finds himself throughout his long life seem almost far fetched only heighten the entertainment value. Still, Boyd always manages to hall it back from being totally unbelievable. Perhaps this is because of the very real frailties and tragedies of a long life that he sows into the narrative along the way making this a hugely wise and thought provoking novel. 

Lessons

A ‘whole-life’ novel from Ian McEwan. The first I read of this genre (if you can call it that) was Any Human Heart by William Boyd and remains my favourite novel. Try as I may, it is difficult not to compare Lessons to the standard in my mind. 

Unsurprisingly it doesn’t measure up but that doesn’t mean Lessons is not a good book. It’s a reflective and poignant read, with reflections on the passing of time, the values we each hold within our life and the ways in which these change and warp as time passes. I can’t quite get on board with McEwan’s writing style but that may be personal preference. Where Boyd makes every sentence count, meaning his story flows and moves at pace, McEwan is  less concise and at times, dare I say it, relatively rambling. This does create passages in which I found myself a little bored. That said, it is still emotive an emotive read at points and drives introspection, all of which means it is still definitely worth a read. 

The Killing Floor

I’ve heard a lot about these books over the years. One of the things I know is that there are lots of them, hence my slight reluctance in diving into a big franchise. This first book grabbed me though and I must say I can now see what all the hype is about. I had almost expected it to be a bit trashy and simplistic. What I uncovered was a sophisticated, interesting, well written and well paced thriller. 

It seems as if it has created a bit of a niche for itself. Part detective novel, part action thriller. A combination that is melded into a hugely enjoyable read and one that means I will be steadily working my through these books. 

The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair

I had picked up one of his other books which looked quite good but I thought I would read this first as it was one of his earlier books and had good reviews. I loved it. This is a real gem. Following the story of a frustrated novelist trying to write his second book, he finds out his mentor has become embroiled in a murder scandal and he sets out to prove him innocent and to simultaneously write his masterpiece in the process. 

The setting for this novel is part of its biggest appeals to me – the New England small town vibe drew me right in. Not to mention the depiction of a writer’s lifestyle which obviously appeals to me greatly too. The story, the characters, the twists and turns and the way it is all wrapped up make it a proper novel. It’s right up there for me and I would highly recommend. 

The Way of Kings

I don’t usually read fantasy books but, having read another title a while back, I’ve had a bit of a hankering. However, most of them, this one being no exception, are a bit of investment in terms of time. In other words, they’re all pretty epic. So I did my research on this one. Having said that I was still hesitant about diving into something like this. 

I had nothing to worry about. I was enthralled by this book. It is fantastical, sprawling, otherwordley, inventive, and wise. But more than that, it was just written brilliantly well. I am unlucky enough to have read Game of Thrones – a tedious, slow, at times shocking and ultimately a bit bleak as a set of books.

This first of several books is opposite to that in almost every way. It is very long but at no point was I counting the pages to the end. It flowed superbly and I was quite taken aback by how much I liked it. The only problem is, I’m not sure anything else will be able to follow this within the fantasy genre, aside from its sequels of course. 

I got this after some research as I was hankering for something along the same lines and, crucially, as good as The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. 

While this was good, it didn’t reach the heights of the aforementioned. It feels as if it needed a few more rounds of editing. The details seem a bit chaotic and muddled at points and it wasn’t quite as clever as the cover and testimonials might suggest. It betrays the author’s legal background as well. It is written from the perspective of one character but the direction of much of the dialogue contrives to fall back on quite detailed legal theory in situations where it simply wouldn’t happen in reality. Which does break the fourth wall somewhat. 

Still, perhaps I’m being a bit harsh. It was a fun read and certainly not the worst book I’ve ever read. While it didn’t quite hit the mark that propels it into the same league as Stuart Turton’s first novel, it’s still worth a read.