The Devil of Nanking by Mo Hayder

Genre: Suspense/Mystery
Publication Date: 2004
Pages: 471
Challenges: None
Source: Purchased Used

The Short Version:
Two stories play out in 1990 Japan and 1937 China as a young Englishwoman and an aging Chinese scholar seek the same answers for different reasons.

Why I Read It:
I’d thoroughly enjoyed Mo Hayder’s first two books despite the disturbing nature of parts of them and am working my way through all of her books.

The Book
In 1937 Nanking China the invading Japanese army perpetrated a massacre the extent of which is still questioned and a source of controversy to this day.

In 1990 Japan a young Englishwoman named Grey with an odd past is in search of a film clip that is rumored to exist from the time of the Nanking massacre. She seeks out an aging Chinese professor who survived Nanking and clearly has secrets he wants to keep from her. Broke and with no place to stay, Grey meets up with a mysterious American man who gets her a job as a hostess in the nightclub where he works and a room where he lives.

Add to the mix a wheelchair bound elderly gangster with a scary nurse who may or may not have found the secret to immortality and let the stories spin and spiral together.

My Thoughts:
What I expect from Mo Hayder after reading her first two books is a good suspenseful book that may or may not have an easy to figure out mystery. The answer to the mystery is not necessarily the payoff in her books, because the trails through the story she weaves are just so intriguing, disturbing and nearly hypnotic that the journey might be better than the destination.

This is all that and more. The story moves back and forth between 1990 Tokyo and 1937 Nanking. As Grey tries to find out if the professor really has film she wants, flashbacks tell of his life before and during the Japanese takeover of Nanking. There are some fairly disturbing and grotesque elements, but Hayder’s books in general are not for the faint of heart.

The main characters all have secrets that are doled out a little at a time. About halfway through the book I’d figured out the likely ending, but I didn’t care. The characters are all damaged, some in ways that are explained and others are left a bit mysterious. The tension and suspense builds in the two main storylines with some seriously scary folk involved in the outcomes of both of them. The atmosphere is heavy and well developed in both settings and despite the moving back and forth I felt immersed in both 1937 Nanking and 1990 Tokyo.

It’s a disturbing, haunting and suspenseful book and if you can handle the tough parts, Hayder is a great storyteller.

Rating 4/5