cover image Dear Mr. M

Dear Mr. M

Herman Koch, trans. from the Dutch by Sam Garrett. Hogarth, $26 (448p) ISBN 978-1-101-90332-2

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. (Sept.)