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Review: The Devil of Nanking by Mo Hayder

book review the devil of nanking mo hayder

The Devil of Nanking

Mo Hayder

A young Englishwoman obsessed with an indecipherable past, Grey comes to Tokyo seeking a lost piece of film footage of the notorious 1937 Nanking Massacre, footage some say never existed. Only one man can help Grey. A survivor of the massacre…more.

My Rating:

Long hidden history comes to light in the seedy neon world of modern Tokyo in best-selling author Mo Hayder’s brilliant and heart wrenching, The Devil of Nanking.

Clipping off with a visceral confrontation from a history that may not be as distant as it seems, The Devil of Nanking is immersive in a way that is both unsettling and intense. What follows is the story of Grey, a young English woman whose own past is as dark as the mystery facing the reader at the start of this story. Without money besides what it took to get her there, Grey settles into Tokyo in an odd flow of circumstance and luck. But to call her lucky would not be a vast understatement, as the book slowly reveals.

Grey falls into a routine while awaiting a promise from an older professor, the reason she is there, to see a film she knows must exist, and one she must see in order to prove her own sanity. Finding a job as a nightclub hostess, living in a rundown, ancient home with two Russians and a wickedly peculiar man, she slowly reveals her own truly sad and bizarre past. Her obsession with a certain orange book that shaped her life, and may only be a ghost, also becomes the reader’s obsession. As the grotesqueries build, The Devil of Nanking becomes a fixation, something that must be completed, the answers found and resolved.

The realistic and extreme terror of this novel sets it firmly in the horror genre. Acts of pure human depravity, wartime atrocities and culturally sheltered ignorance weave together to build a whirlwind of a story that ends in a most horrid act that will sear itself into the mind of the reader.

Mo Hayder has a knack for painting pictures; her books read like expertly cinematic films and her prose is beautifully poetic. The grace of this novel helps to poignantly showcase the truest revulsions that have been felt by all cultures in war, as well as the ones faced by any number of humans simply trying to live their lives but not being afforded the proper tools to do so, all told through the eyes of our main character.

Perhaps of the greatest importance, this novel points to the sickening dread that befell the Chinese shortly before the events of World War II broke out. This is a time that may be worth forgetting, but one that should be more often discussed. The Devil of Nanking proves that this history sits in the back of the closet, awaiting a time to leap out and take the unsuspecting by the hand, dragging them into the darkness that many humans once faced. Truly one of the creepiest books I’ve ever read, by a most talented and diabolical writer. Read this with the lights turned off.

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