Marcus Goldman is a writer who studied under the tutelage of a world renowned, award-winning author, Harry Quebert. When he finds, after his huge first unexpected success, that at the age of 28 he can no longer seem to write and is faced with writer’s block, he is devastated. He suddenly remembers his old friend and mentor Harry Quebert, the man who made him believe in himself. He had pretty much abandoned him when he gained fame, but now, after a long absence in his life, he calls him and is graciously welcomed back and invited to stay at Harry’s bucolic home in New Hampshire until he regains his momentum.
The story travels in many directions. Marcus is given advice by Harry. He begins to box again with his old friend, teacher and surrogate father, as they used to do in his college days. Even so, he cannot relax and write. Ensconced in this perfect setting, there is still no inspiration. Badgered by his publisher with threats of a law suit, if he doesn’t produce a book by his deadline, he resigns himself to the fact that he is no longer a writer. While rudely and clandestinely searching through papers in Harry’s home, hoping to find the initial notes for his renowned book so he can understand how he should begin again, he finds out that, in 1975, at the age of 34, Harry had an illicit relationship with a fifteen year old girl, Nola Kellergan, for whom, when confronted, he professes a deep, and everlasting love and a plan to run away with her which was foiled when she was murdered. He has carried a torch for her ever since, and he confesses that the book he is remembered for, “The Origins of Evil”, was written for her. After this episode, Marcus returns home, to New York.
When Harry’s landscapers uncover human bones on his property, while planting Hydrangea bushes, he is arrested for Nola Kellergan’s murder. Marcus returns, stands by his side, giving up any effort to have any book ready for his publisher, although he is faced with legal action, and he begins an investigation to prove Harry’s innocence. This will lead, ultimately, to the book he needs to write, the book which will maintain his status as a sought after writer and which will reveal all the facts, some of which would have been better left hidden. The stigma of the relationship with an underage girl will stain Harry’s reputation irreparably, even if he is innocent.
Hypocrisy, secrecy, lies, deception, emotional conflict, warnings to leave, threats against his life, psychological twists and turns will face him as he conducts his inquiry. On almost every page, in an effort to get to the bottom of this mystery, the reader will be faced with intrigue. The ending will be a total surprise in its many facets and the reader will be caught in the grip of this engaging crime novel filled with advice for writers, advice for the lovelorn and the lonely, and an exploration of the “origin of evil” in all of its costumes, mental and physical. There is no end to the artifice and cover-ups of those involved in this double murder mystery. Nothing is as it seems.
The book works backwards as the chapters descend in order, instead of ascending as the do in a normal pattern because the book begins in 2008 and has to solve a crime committed 33 years before. As it works backward, the characters will be well developed and their behavior carefully examined. Sometimes minor characters will assume unexpected importance. There will be a bit of humor like those times when mothers try and organize the lives of their children, and there will be moments of shock and surprise. The psychology of behavior will be a key point in the discoveries made.
I wonder if anyone will guess the ending, but I truly doubt it, so please, do yourselves a favor, don’t cheat, don’t read the last pages first, sit back and relax and enjoy a page turner of a novel with many twists and turns that will take you on a thought-provoking trip as the murders are investigated. The reader will be left wondering about what man is capable of when fear is governing behavior, when terrible mistakes are made and accidents happen that cannot be reversed, when facts are misunderstood, and misdirected intentionally, They will discover that even those that are not truly evil can commit a crime of passion, that seemingly honest, moral people will allow innocent people to suffer for their sins, that hypocrisy rules over honor, and that conclusions are drawn from circumstantial evidence, jumped to without investigating all the facts once madness and mayhem enter the picture.
The drawback of the book is that although it is engaging, it is not entirely credible at times. When the book ends, the reader may sit back and ponder all of the twists and turns and wonder about the conspiracy that developed to protect those who were guilty. The reader will have to go back over the book, will have to recreate the scenes and revisit each character before it will all fall into place. Take this book on vacation, on an airplane, into the tub for a relaxing bath, but don’t take it too seriously!
Although not all critics liked this book, I found it a fast-paced thriller even if it isn’t literature! If you are looking for rocket science, don’t read it, if you are looking for a good mystery that will capture you from page one, even in its hokeyness, then enjoy the read.