Friday, January 18, 2008

The Devil of Nanking by Mo Hayder

I have used the word "charming" in my last two reviews. Perhaps it was weak writing on my part to rely on the same word in back to back reviews, but I felt totally justified given the fact that my last two selections are, well, completely charming. I can assure you that I won't be using that word to describe The Devil of Nanking. Gripping, riveting, fascinating - yes - a compelling, grab-you-by-the-throat-page-turner - oh, yes. Charming, delightful, soothing, lovely? Not even remotely. Devil is a magnificent thriller, but it's not for those who favor light reading.
The plot involves interlaced mysteries all with roots in one of the most horrific events of the 20th century - the 1937 "Rape of Nanking" by the invading Japanese army. Grey, a really, really disturbed young woman (believe me, she's really unbalanced), is obsessed with finding proof of something she read in an orange book that disappeared. She tracks down Shi Chongming, a university professor and survivor of the Nanking atrocities, because she thinks he possesses an old film that will prove the truth of what she read in her childhood and show that she was not insane, that whatever it was really happened. Shi Chongming, while not admitting that he has the film, sends Grey on a mission to discover what substance a vicious gangster, Fuyuki, consumes to stay alive. Hayder juggles mysteries, linking them as the plot unfolds one creepy, ghastly, step at a time.
  • What did Grey read?
  • Why was she committed to an asylum?
  • What happened to Shi Chongming and his wife during the 1937 horror?
  • What does the film show?
  • What is the medicine given to Fuyuki by his Nurse? (And who is the Nurse?)
  • Who is the Devil of Nanking?
The story alternates between Grey's trance-like account of her search and Shi Chongming's 1937 diary. Hayder takes you to the edge in each chapter, switching back and forth between voices, making it impossible to put down the book. Submerging the reader in a surreal atmosphere of evil, malevolence permeates the setting. While the ending came as no surprise, the powerful ride to the ultimate revelation of truth was great storytelling.

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