‘The Alaska Sanders case’: Joël Dicker returns to the Harry Quebert case ten years later

The Swiss writer, one of the best sellers of the last decade, publishes in Colombia the sequel to his acclaimed novel ‘The truth about the Harry Quebert case’. The protagonist of it must unravel, again, the strange murder of a girl that occurred several years ago.

The truth about the Harry Quebert case It was one of those rare literary phenomena that appear out of nowhere and, unexpectedly, become a worldwide sensation. Its author, the Swiss Joël Dicker, was 27 years old and although he had written five novels before that, he had never published any. Éditions de Fallois, the publishing house that had decided to publish it for the first time, was also a small, independent publishing house, not very well known, which was not used to printing large runs either.

Even so, the story of a writer who can only overcome the syndrome of the blank page by immersing himself fully in the investigation of a murder that occurred 40 years ago in which his great friend and mentor is involved, was liked so much that it was soon became a success, despite its almost 700 pages.

A success that began by word of mouth, in that distant September 2012, when French booksellers (Dicker writes in that language), excited by the book, offered it to passers-by, guaranteeing that if they did not like it, they would give them their money back . And so, little by little, it ended up being translated into 42 languages, selling more than 15 million copies and winning the French Academy grand prize for a novel and a version of the Goncourt prize awarded by high school students.

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Ten years later, the book is a contemporary classic and Dicker one of the best-selling and acclaimed European writers of recent years. With his direct, simple and very visual narration style (almost as if one were reading the scenes of a movie or a television series), with which he usually tells stories at various times and in which the mysteries are gradually revealed Little by little, it has conquered readers all over the world.

books like The disappearance of Stephanie Mailer (2018) o The riddle of room 622 (2020) have made it a Bestseller of thriller and the crime novel (although he has reservations with that label), with the special feature that it not only enjoys great sales, but also good reviews from a large part of the critics.

Not all, of course; there are who they reproach him for its supposedly sexist plots and for superficially portraying the female characters. Even so, the specialized comments towards his stories are generally laudatory or positive, something unusual for someone who sells so much.

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‘The Alaska Sanders case’ and the return to the Harry Quebert case

These days, Dicker is launching in Colombia (as in the rest of Latin America) The Alaskan Sanders casehis most recent novel, which turns out to be a continuation of The truth about the Harry Quebert case, the story that earned him worldwide success. Not only does his main character return there, the writer Marcus Goldman, who had already returned for the novel The Baltimore Book (2015). Also returning are old teacher Harry Quebert and Sergeant Perry Gahalawood. In addition, the plot takes place right after the end of the successful novel (and ends before it begins). The Baltimore Book).

Return to the characters and plot that made it such a bestseller seems like a risky decision. However, it is bearing fruit: in Spain, the novel has already climbed to number one and the press, as in the United States, has praised it. In Goodreads, a platform where readers from all over the world share their views on books, has an average rating of 4.35 out of 5 with a total of 4,193 ratings. And it is most likely that in a few weeks it will reach the top of the best-selling books in Colombia as well.

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For him, however, beyond a risky decision or a commercial strategy, it is something natural, which he had thought about since before 2012. “I always imagined that Harry Quebert would be a trilogy and that after the first book there would be a direct continuation. -explains the writer in an event with several journalists from Latin America in which he was present Journal Criterion-. But given the totally surprising success, I thought that if I immediately wrote the sequel, they would tell me that I did it to take advantage of the success. And no, it wasn’t that. I really wanted to do it”.

So I wait a while and even chose to write and post first The Baltimore Book, which would become the third part of the trilogy, in which Marcus Goldman talks about his childhood and his relationship (a complex friendship, full of jealousy and envy) with three cousins. It was a less ‘police’ book, but one that allowed him to get to the bottom of his protagonist.

Still, something was missing. “I wanted to know what had happened to the two friendship stories from the first book: that of Marcus and Harry, his old mentor, who at the beginning of the story live their great moment, but at the end it has been broken. And also with that of Marcus and Perry, to which the opposite happens: it begins with great difficulties, in the midst of a conflict situation, and in the end, in the midst of the investigation, a friendship sprouts.“.

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Writer Joël Dicker
Joel Dicker

Another young woman killed in a small town

And what better way to explore both friendships than to put the protagonists in a situation similar to the one that blew everything to pieces in The truth about the Harry Quebert case: a girl killed several years ago. If at that time it was Nola Kellergan, the teenager with whom Harry had had a forbidden relationship, and whose body allegedly appeared in the house that the writer had in the small town of Aurora, in this case it is Alaska Sanders, who gives it its title. to the book, another young girl whose murder, in a small town in New Hampshire, is full of mysteries and intrigue.

It’s back to his best terrain: mystery and suspense, making readers think about who the murderer could be and releasing the clues little by little, with a hectic pace, full of unexpected twists. A place where he feels that, as a writer, he can make the most of his characters.

It is also to return to a formula that its readers already know well: a young, very beautiful girl, who is murdered in a bloody way and who years later is given justice (a journalist with the help of a policeman). And in the process of doing her justice, they discover that there was much more to her than a pretty face. Usually a romance. Those who point out his sexist plots refer precisely to that: they say that he belittles women and limits them.

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He believes just the opposite: “every day in Europe, and also in Latin America, a woman appears who has been murdered by her husband, an acquaintance or a stranger. And just because they are women. So it is not anecdotal to choose women as victims: it sadly reflects reality”.

He also says that it is a way of making readers reflect using literature, which has a power that series or movies do not have: “what is interesting about a novel is the echo it has in the readers and that echo resonates with what the reader has. If one had a moralistic attitude, it would not work. No one listens to moralistic people. On the other hand, if one maintains a call to reflection, the echo is much stronger”.

He also explains that it is much more difficult for him to create a female character. “They have the ability to be stronger, more determined, to go further than men. It is not always easy to project myself into them (every character is a projection of the writer). With a man, on the other hand, for me it is much more natural. It is a major challenge project myself into them”.

The truth about the Harry Quebert case
The truth about the Harry Quebert case

The black novel and its advantages

But if those types of plots are, to put it in some way, his weakness (at least what some point out), his great strength is to move in the police fields. Dicker is a master at unraveling mysteries and creating subplots that keep the reader glued to the book. A capacity that he, he says, comes naturally to him. Without planning, researching or studying much.

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He, however, has never liked to talk about the detective genre or crime novels. “It is difficult to talk about a genre as such, because the strength of the crime novel, from my point of view, is that it is probably the genre that offers a greater spectrum of narrative possibilities with the characters. We can do whatever we want, we have no limits of any kind”.

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In fact, he mentions Ken Follett, more recognized as a writer of historical novels, as his great influence on the genre. Although he also talks about Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. But not so much for their plots.

The strength of their work is that they created an atmosphere and a genre, and also certain types of characters. They created a world that revolves around a universe that goes beyond what they write. Deep down, although it is my perception, we read these authors because we want to delve into their environment, into their particularities. That is why I say that the best thing about detective novels is not, many times, the sophistication of the intrigue, but the characters and the environments that they manage to create.“.

And that, precisely, is what Dicker himself has done: create his own world, his own recognizable universe. One that already caught millions of readers. A number that will surely continue to grow with The Alaskan Sanders case.

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