'An absolute page-turner' Mail on Sunday
Dear Mr. M,
I'd like to start by telling you that I'm doing better now. I do so because you probably have no idea that I was ever doing worse. Much worse, in fact, but I'll get to that later on.
Mr. M is being watched. As a famous writer, he is no stranger to the limelight, although interest in his work has been dwindling of late. His print runs are smaller than they used to be, as are the crowds at his bookshop signings . . . Our narrator clearly takes a keen interest in M.'s work, and indeed in every aspect of his life. But what exactly are his intentions? And to what does Mr. M owe the honour of his undivided attention?
Our narrator seems to be no stranger to murder, while his own story appears to bear more than a passing resemblance to the plot of Mr. M's most famous novel: a teacher has an affair with a student, only to be brutally murdered by the girl and her teenage boyfriend. The body is never found.
That's the problem with fiction: in real life, bodies have an awkward habit of turning up. Mr. M has used some artistic licence, and our narrator is not pleased, not pleased at all. And just before he fades into obscurity, he's prepared to give Mr. M one last review. And it's unlikely to be a rave.
Dear Mr. M is an unsettling and irresistibly readable literary thriller, set in the world of writing and bookselling, by Herman Koch, the author of the international bestseller, The Dinner.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
We had a hard time getting anything done because all we wanted to do was rip through this devilishly clever novel. It’s easy to imagine Herman Koch—who hit gold with his unsettling domestic thriller The Dinner—chuckling in delight while writing Dear Mr. M, a story within a story within a story. It starts with an unnamed narrator who holds a serious grudge against the famous writer who lives in the apartment above him. Koch carefully doles out breadcrumbs of information, leading us on a wild and creepy literary treasure hunt.
The Dutch author of The Dinner keeps the reader pleasantly off balance in a tale about a fading novelist and the crime that inspired the book that brought him fame. At first, the aging Mr. M, who lives with his "lovely, young" and "self-effacing" wife and three-year-old daughter, is observed only through the cool eyes of his younger downstairs neighbor, whom M consistently fails to recognize outside of the apartment building. Later, the misanthropic M gets his own chapters in the spotlight as he considers disposing of the middle-aged housewives attending a library book-signing or engages in fisticuffs with a rival at an authors' dinner. Other characters taking their moment in the spotlight include M's wife, Ana, and the two young inspirations for M's novel, Herman and Laura, who may or may not have done away with their high school history teacher. All have motives and feelings that are more twisted than one first suspects. Koch cleverly lays out the pieces of his puzzle, letting first one pattern and then another emerge, and leaving the final piece in reserve until the last few pages. His sardonic sense of humor and dark perspective on human failings give the novel a greater, more satisfying depth than the usual thriller.