Saturday, January 09, 2010

Devil of Nanking

I had heard that Mo Hayder was one of the top writers of grisly horror-thrillers, so I was on the lookout for her books. I found a copy of Pig Island and gave it a try. I wasn't impressed. The writing was great and the book was bloated. Friends assured me that The Devil of Nanking was worth it. So I picked it up and it is.

The book ties (a bit improbably, but whatever) a young damaged British woman and an old damaged Chinese man. The man is rumored to be in possession of a film of an atrocity from the 1937 Rape of Nanking. The woman is obsessed with that act, for reasons she doesn't fully understand herself (but the wise reader knows she will learn.) Chasing the man down in Japan, she finds herself wanting work, which she finds as a hostess in a shady nightclub. Shady, because many of the guests are yakuza, Japanese gangsters. As it happens, all of these people are tied together.

While this book is a sort of thriller, it isn't one that keeps you guessing. About a third of the way through, you will be nearly certain how the book will end. That's fine, the punch of the book isn't in the guessing, but in the dread and tension that Hayder creates. Her characters remind me of those that Gillian Flynn creates, that is to say damaged and twisted. Rather than the middle American types we get in Flynn's books, here we have the oddballs of the expatriate community.

The terrible events of Nanking, which remain criminally little known in the West are at the center of the book. Hayder dedicates the book to Iris Chang, the Chinese-American writer whose book on the subject is a must read. Like Hayder's book it isn't very popular in Japan.


Brack said...

I am a big fan of her DI Jack Cafferey series. The first two books, "Birdman" and "The Treatment", were absolute jaw-droppers for me. The latter was a particularly harrowing read. "Ritual" was pretty good, I have not yet read "Skin" and there is another coming our in February - oh happy day!

Tripp said...

I think i started Birdman once, but I was in a squeamish mood (air travel + bad airport food IIRC.) The description of a corpse was so unpleasant I put it down. It lurks still, somewhere in my book boxes.