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Wednesday 14 July 2021

‘The Disappearance of Stephanie Mailer’ by Joel Dicker

Published by MacLehose Press,
4 March 2021.
ISBN: 978-0-85705-920-8 (HB)
Translated from the French by Howard Curtis

Police chief Jesse Rosenberg is about to take early retirement to work on a special project. He’s known to his colleagues in the New York State Police as ‘Captain 100%’ because that’s his case success rate, starting from his very first case as a young officer: the shooting of four people in Orphea on the night its new theater opened. At his party, reporter Stephanie Mailer comes up and tells him he’s only 99%; he got the wrong man all those years ago. Then she goes missing ...

There are so many strands in this story that the reader’s kept on their toes and so drawn in right from the start. It’s narrated in short sections, and the author generally gives a different narrator for each strand. There’s the missing Stephanie Mailer, star NY Times reporter suddenly come to Orphea to work for a local newspaper; these sections are generally narrated by Rosenberg and his new assistant, Betsey Kanner, a former lawyer turned police officer who’s come to Orphea to escape her past, and who’s finding the sexist attitude of her colleagues hard going. There’s the murder of twenty years ago, mostly narrated by Rosenberg’s former partner, Derek Scott, who has his own demons connected with the love of Rosenberg’s life, Natasha, who was the best friend of Scott’s wife, Darla. There’s the present-day countdown to the Orphea Theatre’s twenty-first festival, with the search for a headlining play, and tension rising among the staff; there’s a tangle of small-town politics and hints of corruption, because one of the original victims was the Mayor. There’s a nasty gangster, his enforcer, and the people whose lives they’ve damaged; there’s a theatre critic who’s suddenly lost his job.

All the characters were interesting, with secrets hidden under the ‘normal’ personas. The narration’s kept going at speed, with frequent cliff-hangers and helpful reminders of plot lines – I’d have liked a list of who’s who, and found it, surprisingly, after the last page of the novel. The small-town atmosphere was vividly written, and the tension between local and state officers was brought across well. It ends in an explosion of revealed secrets, and a clever twist.

A page-turning multi-layered tale of murder in an atmospherically-described theatrical small town, inhabited by people with pasts they won’t reveal and can’t forget.

Reviewer: Marsali Taylor

Joël Dicker was born in Geneva in 1985, where he studied Law. His first Book The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair was nominated for the Prix Goncourt and won the Grand Prix du Roman de l'Académie Française and the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens. It soon became a worldwide success publishing in 42 countries and selling more than 3.5 million copies. In the UK it was a Times number one bestseller, and was chosen for the Richard and Judy Book Club as well as Simon Mayo's Radio 2 Book Club. His latest book is The Disapperance of Stephanie Mailer.

Marsali Taylor grew up near Edinburgh, and came to Shetland as a newly-qualified teacher. She is currently a part-time teacher on Shetland's scenic west side, living with her husband and two Shetland ponies. Marsali is a qualified STGA tourist-guide who is fascinated by history, and has published plays in Shetland's distinctive dialect, as well as a history of women's suffrage in Shetland. She's also a keen sailor who enjoys exploring in her own 8m yacht, and an active member of her local drama group.  Marsali also does a regular monthly column for the Mystery People e-zine. 

Click on the title to read a review of her recent book Death From a Sheland Cliff

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