The Devil of Nanking
by Mo Hayder
Published 2004 by Penguin
Audio downloaded from library website
Read January 2012
12 hours, 43 minutes
Narrated by Josephine Bailey and Simon Vance
Why I Read It: I am such a sucker. I decided to read The Devil of Nanking for two reasons: 1) I have a non-fiction book on my shelf titled The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II by Iris Chang and I thought reading a novel about the same events would get me to read the one on my TBR list sooner and 2) Harlan Coben has a quote on the cover and I love that guy. Okay, not going to lie, it was mostly the Harlan Coben thing.
Note to self: DO NOT FALL FOR THE FAVORITE AUTHOR BLURBS A BOOK trick (unless it is Patrick Califia, in which case it’s totally cool to fall for that because, come on, it’s Patrick Califia).
Also, I just found this out, my favorite magazine Entertainment Weekly gave it an A. So while I didn’t know that before I read the book, it proves that it’s not just Harlan Coben’s fault that I read this book.
What It’s About: Grey is a college-age English woman in the mid 1990s who is obsessed with the brutal Rape of Nanking. She is so obsessed with it, in fact, that somehow it led to her being hospitalized. In a mysterious book she found in her house, she read about a movie made during the massacre and she is now on a quest to watch it and prove that it exists. This leads her to Japan, in order track down Professor Shi Chongming, the man who discussed the video in the book no one believes exists. If this sounds confusing, it’s because it is. There’s more: “Her quest will take her to a reclusive scholar and a wheelchair-bound gangster who clings to life with the aid of a mysterious elixir, and to a handsome American whose interest in Grey may be more sinister than romantic (via Goodreads).”
What I Really Liked: Part of the book is Grey’s journal entries, while the other part is Professor Shi Chongming’s journal entries from the years leading up to the 1937 massacre in Nanking. While the writing itself is impeccable, if very slowly paced, in both sections, Shi Chongming’s entries have a sense of urgency that makes for very engaging reading. If the entire book had focused on him instead of sharing the spotlight with Grey, I would have loved The Devil of Nanking.
What I Didn’t Like: I would classify this book as being a “literary thriller,” which to me means well written, but not at all thrilling. The entire plot hinges on coincidences: Grey meets Jason, the aforementioned “handsome American,” in a park, and through him she gets a job where she meets the “wheelchair-bound gangster.”
There’s also the moralizing. There’s a very obviously underoverlying message here, and that is that ignorance is not the same as evil. It’s repeated about a bajillion times.
Finally, the ultimate disappointment was that I guessed most of the plot twists at the very beginning. I am usually terrible at this, so it was rather frustrating.
Recommended: If you like literary thrillers and/or you’re really, really bad at guessing plot twists
On the Narration: I’ve enjoying listening to quite a few books read by Simon Vance and he does not disappoint here as the haunted Professor Shi Chongming. Josephine Bailey was also pretty good, but I had to take points away for her absolutely awful voice for Jason. It’s a pretty bad attempt at an American accent.
Narration Grade: B+