Joël Dicker ‘The Mystery of Room 622’


Macaire was a man who would never hurt her, always cares for her, always ready to bend over backwards for her. Men who bend over backwards are men that are conquered and passion doesn’t last after conquest. Now what she needed was passion.***


After the East coast of America Joel Dicker brings us back to Switzerland, where he tells us a story of bankers and the fight for succession at a private investment bank, the Ebezner Bank, whilst in parallel developing for us his views on story telling and a eulogy to his late editor Bernard de Fallois as he, the writer, tracks down the tale. For Joel in the book, a story begins with an enigma which can then be explored.

Here as Joel feels alone, he decides to take a few days in the mountains in a hotel that Bernard de Fallois used to use, the Palace de Verbier in the story, and as he goes to his room on the sixth floor he noticed that there is a gap in the room numbering and that there is no room 622, but why? From this enigma he develops a story where we understand that a good story does not need verisimilitude to succeed, the characters and their interactions suffice.

He tells us the story of Macaire Ebezner, a mediocre banker who would have been next inline to be president of the family bank had his own father not changed the rules before his death, calling for a board vote, of Macaire’s wife illustrated in the opening quote who is secretly in love with his successful rival Lev Levovitch and of Tornogol the rich Russian oligarch who, thanks to Macaire, and to his late father’s displeasure leading to the change in the rules of succession, has a seat on the board.

No one is who they seem as we discover mystery after mystery, toxic mothers, jealous fathers and mediocre bankers. The tension builds up to the banks annual get together at the Palace de Verbier where the new president is to be announced and the events in room 622.

This book has had mixed write ups but I confess the suspension of reality worked for me, larger than life but fun.

First Published in French as “I’énigme de la chambre 622″ by de Fallois in 2020
*** my translation

The quote as read in French before translation

Macaire était un homme qui ne lui ferait jamais de mal, toujours au petits soins pour elle, à se plier en quatre pour elle. Les hommes qui se plie en quatre ce sont des hommes conquits et la passion ne survit pas à la conquête. Aujourd’hui elle avait besoin de passion

Joël Dicker ‘ Le Livre des Baltimore’

Harry Quebert was always going to be a hard act to follow but the imagenew 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
***My translation

French Lit targets for 2016

In an attempt at spreading my European Literature targets for 2016 more evenly, and following my German Lit targets and Italian Lit targets here are my 8 French Lit targets for 2016, Once again anyone wishing to read along will be most welcome. This list will be updated in mid year for the start of the French literary season

Karine Tuile, ‘Six mois six jours’, shortlisted for the 2010 Goncourt8/05/2016

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Joël dicker, ‘Le livre des baltimores’, an automatic best seller after last year’s Harry Quebert27/03/2016

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Boualem Sansal, ‘2084’ which won the Grand Prix du roman de l’Academie francaise this year19/5/2016

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Nathalie Azoulai, ‘Titus n’aimait pas Berenice’, which won the prix Medicis this year4/08/2016

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Vincent Almendros, ‘Un Été’, this his second novel has brought him to the public eye with the prix Sagan.22/02/2016

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Akram Belkaïd, ‘Retours en Algérie’, a book written on his return to Algeria, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of independence in 2012

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François-Henri Désérable, ‘Évariste’, with this his second book.25/02/2016

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Astrid Manfredi, ‘La Petite Barbare’ with this her first novel

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Marc Dugain ‘L’emprise’, the first book of a trilogy still in writing and ollowing on from his Avenue of the Giants read this year.31/5/2016

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Joel Dicker ‘The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair’

Last week I travelled by train from Chicago to San Francisco on the California Zephyr, wow what a journey. I recommend it to anyone, take time and book some stops along the way.

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During the ride I finished listening on audio book to ‘La Vėritė Sur l’Affaire Harry Quebert’ now translated into English by Swiss writer Joël Dicker. Tell me more