Harry Quebert was always going to be a hard act to follow but the new Joël Dicker, released for the ‘rentrée littéraire’ 2015, ‘The Story of the Baltimore’s’ did not let me down.
The book about a family drama, over several generations, reads like a slow burning thriller. With the skillful hand of Dicker hooking us from the first chapter and slowly reeling us in. From the first sentence of the prologue,
‘ Tomorrow, my cousin Woody will go to prison where he will spend the next five years of his life’***
And then already in the second paragraph of this prologue he tells us
‘Two days later my uncle Saul called me.
– Marcus? This is Saul.
– Hello uncle Saul how are….
He didn’t let me finish
– Marcus, listen closely: I need you to come to Baltimore straight away without asking questions, something terrible has happened.’***
The story is told By Marcus Goldman, as a child, an adolescent and a young adult he is aware of the family divide between his own father’s side of their family, the Goldmans from Montclair, New Jersey, an ordinary family who were careful about every dollar they spent, and his uncle’s side of the family the flamboyant Goldmans from Baltimore better known as the Baltimores. The story is told in four distinct time periods, the origin of the differences between the two branches of the family when Marcus was a young child, the formative years of his adolescence as he is drawn towards his uncle, aunt and cousins, the period around the drama and the final appeasement.
Although Marcus is the narrator, the story moves backwards and forwards in time and we as the reader are often one step ahead of Marcus, in expectancy of his next discovery as the tragedies in this dense family tale unravel.
There are greed, jealousy and betrayal at the heart of the story but also love, trust and faithfulness, the one set adding structure to the other.
An example of the story pulling the reader in by showing glimpses of other times and mysteries that the reader hasn’t yet grasped can be give by this discussion between Uncle Saul and Marcus from chapter 3 where we as yet know nothing of the references of this conversation, nor do we know what was the drama.
‘June 2010, Six years after the drama’***
‘- What happened between Alexandra and you? Asked uncle Saul
– It doesn’t matter, I replied
– Markie, you know how much I appreciate your being here. But sometimes I worry about you. You should go out more, have more fun. Have a girlfriend….
– Don’t worry yourself, uncle Saul.
I held the photo out to give it back.
– No, keep it, he said. There’s a note on the back.
I turned the photo over and recognised her writing. She had written
I LOVE YOU GOLDMANS.***’
This book was from my 2016 French reading list.
First published in French as Le Livre des Baltimore by Fallois in 2015