The Disappearance of Stephanie Mailer is my fourth novel. Or rather: it is only my fourth novel. I have been extremely lucky career-wise, as I sold millions of copies of my books worldwide, and a lot of people see in me an accomplished author. But I am still a young author, not only in age, but also in terms of what I have done: only four novels, and I will have to write many, many more if I want to have what we call in French: une œuvre.
I am telling you this to explain that when I start a new book, I keep asking myself a very important question: what do I want to improve about my writing in this book? What should be my challenge to develop new skills as an author?
When I started Stephanie Mailer, I challenged myself to write a choral novel, which was something I had always wanted to try. It means that you need to master the main plot and the subplot and especially work on the characters’ development. This how I wrote this story of two cops who solved a murder 24 years ago and come to realise, just as one of them is about to leave the police, that they got the wrong murderer and that the case is actually unsolved. This part of the story will unfold in a small town in the Hamptons, in the state of New York. While the investigation is ongoing, a couple of parallel stories start in New York City. And at some point, everything will become intertwined.
I chose the Hamptons as a very pleasant, calm setting where readers would not expect a murder to take place. But while the Hamptons definitely exist, the town of Orphea was invented to give me the freedom to describe it however I wanted, because to write fiction is to be free and reality is fiction’s enemy. As well as being able to share a lot of different characters with my readers, this book was also an opportunity to talk about the importance of having a free and high-quality press, and the importance of theatres and bookshops in our society.
Is The Disappearance of Stephanie Mailer a crime story? It’s a question I have been often asked and the answer is actually yes and no. Yes, there is a criminal investigation holding together the threads of the plot, which makes it sound like a crime novel. But there are all the sub-plots that are not directly connected with the resolution of the crime. So when the book came out in France, some readers sent me letters telling me: “I read in an interview that Stephanie Mailer was not a crime novel, but it’s a novel about a crime so it’s a crime novel!” And others wrote to me: “I read in an interview that Stephanie Mailer was a crime novel, but it’s a novel with many elements and characters not directly linked with the resolution of the murder so it can’t be called a crime novel!”
This is the beauty of books. There is no one truth, there are as many truths as there are readers. And we need to accept that books cannot always fit in one box.
(c) Joël Dicker
An excerpt from The Disappearance of Stephanie Mailer:
Concerning the events of July 30, 1994
Only those familiar with the Hamptons in New York State knew what happened on July 30, 1994, in a small, swanky oceanside resort called Orphea.
That evening, the town’s very first theater festival was due to open, an event of more than local significance which had attracted large crowds. From late afternoon tourists and locals alike had gathered on Main Street for the many festivities organized by the town council. The residential neighborhoods had emptied of their inhabitants: no people strolling on the sidewalks, no couples on porches, no children on skateboards on the street, nobody in the gardens. Everybody was on Main Street.
Around eight o’clock, in the deserted neighborhood of Penfield, the only sign of life was a car slowly crisscrossing the abandoned streets. At the wheel, a man searching everywhere with panic in his eyes.
He had never felt so alone in the world. There was nobody around to help him. He was looking for his wife. She had left to go jogging and had not come home.
Samuel and Meghan Padalin were among the few inhabitants of the town who had decided not to go to the opening night of the festival. There had been such a demand for tickets that they had been unsuccessful, and they had no wish to watch the open-air activities on Main Street or at the marina.
At 6.30, as she did every day, Meghan had left home to go jogging. The only day she didn’t go jogging was Sunday. She took the same route every evening. From their house, she went up Penfield Street as far as Penfield Crescent, which formed a semicircle around a little park. She would stop in the park to do an exercise routine—always the same—then run home by the same route. It took forty-five minutes, fifty if she extended the exercises, but never more.
At 7.30, Samuel Padalin was thinking it strange that his wife was not yet home.
At 7.45 he started to worry.
By 8.00 he was pacing up and down his living room.
At 8.10, unable to stand it anymore, he got into his car and set off to look around the neighborhood. The logical way to proceed was to follow Meghan’s habitual route, which was what he did.
He drove along Penfield Street as far as Penfield Crescent, and there he turned. It was 8.20. Not a soul in sight. He stopped to look into the park, but there was nobody there. As he was starting the car again he noticed a shape on the sidewalk. At first he thought that it was a heap of clothes. Then he realized it was a body. He jumped out of the car, heart pounding. It was his wife.
Padalin would later tell the police that his first thought was that his wife had fainted from the heat. Then he was afraid that she had had a heart attack. But as he approached Meghan, he saw the blood and then the hole at the back of her skull.
He started screaming for help, unsure if he should stay with his wife or run to the nearby houses, ring the doorbells, and beg someone to call Emergency. His vision was blurred, and he felt as if his legs could no longer carry him. His cries finally alerted someone from a parallel street, and they called the emergency services.
Only minutes later, the police cordoned off the neighborhood.
One of the first officers on the scene noticed that the door of the mayor’s house, close to where Meghan’s body lay, was ajar. As he went closer he saw that the door had been kicked in. He took out his pistol, ran up the front steps and announced himself. There was no answer. He pushed the door open with his foot and saw a woman’s body lying in the corridor. He at once called for backup, then slowly advanced into the house, pistol in hand. In a small room to his right he was horrified to discover the body of a young boy. And then in the kitchen he found the mayor, also dead, lying in a pool of blood.
All three had been shot dead.
(c) Joël Dicker
About The Disappearance of Stephanie Mailer:
A twisting new thriller from the author of The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair
In the summer of 1994, the quiet seaside town of Orphea reels from the discovery of four murders.
Two young police officers, Jesse Rosenberg and Derek Scott crack the case and identify the killer.
Then, twenty years later and just as he is on the point of taking early retirement, Rosenberg is approached by Stephanie Mailer, a journalist who believes he made a mistake back in 1994 and that the real murderer is still out there, perhaps ready to strike again. But before she can give any more details, Stephanie Mailer mysteriously disappears, and Rosenberg and Scott are forced to confront the possibility that her suspicions might have been proved true.
What happened to Stephanie Mailer?
What did she know?
And what really happened in Orphea all those years ago?
Order your copy online here.