Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Joel Dicker has a real knack for coming up with unusual and enthralling mysteries for modern readers, and he does so once again with The Enigma of Room 622. The slightly metafictional story follows a writer named Joel, who retreats to a luxury resort in the Swiss Alps in hopes of healing and recovering from recent ordeals. Unfortunately for him, an old murder rearing its head all but thwarts his plan to finally get some much-needed peace and quiet.
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Joel Dicker can’t Escape a Good Mystery
As much as the majority of us enjoy living in whatever environments we’ve made our existence in, there always comes a point where we yearn to break free and take refuge somewhere far off where nothing and nobody can interrupt our rest. In his latest novel, The Enigma of Room 622, Joel Dicker does his best to find that fabled refuge at a luxury resort in the Swiss Alps, but needless to say, nothing goes as planned for him.
This partially metafictional novel begins with Joel, who also happens to be Switzerland’s most prominent novelist, living in a world of trouble. Not only has his longtime publisher recently passed away, but he has also recently suffered a breakup with a woman he loved dearly. Though authors generally retreat from civilization in order to write (and get sucked into some form of horror story), Joel simply needs to rest.
He chooses the Hotel de Verbier in the Swiss Alps as his sanctuary, a fancy luxury resort where hospitality comes above everything else. Needless to say, what promises to be an idyllic vacation leading to recovery becomes anything but that, and it all starts with a rather peculiar detail: there is no room 622 at the hotel.
Puzzled and intrigued by this occurrence, Joel befriends a fellow amateur sleuth Scarlett – another one of the hotel’s guests – and together they try to pierce the veil of the mysteriously-missing room. It doesn’t take them very long to realize they’ve actually stumbled into a long and storied tale, one equal-parts frightening and intriguing.
To begin with, there was an unsolved murder which once took place in room 622, but surprisingly enough, it only marks the tip of the iceberg. In one way or another, the room became pivotal to the succession of Switzerland’s largest private bank, to a counterintelligence operation known only as P-30, and the greatest scandal in hotel hospitality in human history.
The Long Layers of Mystery in The Enigma of Room 622
Joel Dicker might not publish books as often as some other prominent writers, but as those of you who’ve read The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair can testify, he puts his time to good use, crafting long and detailed stories with plenty of layers to them. In my opinion, he continues this streak in the present novel, and personally-speaking, his style is one I thoroughly enjoy despite minor shortcomings, which I’ll address later.
With the book being as long as it is, I think it goes without saying this isn’t one of those short and fast-paced mysteries where bodies are dropping left and right while the protagonist frantically races against the clock to save the world. On the contrary, it’s a much calmer adventure, one centred almost entirely on the history of a single room.
Even though everything does wrap up nicely at the end in The Enigma of Room 622, the trip to getting there does take a fairly long time, and is meant for the types of readers who can arm themselves with patience in order to experience a profound sense of immersion. We constantly learn about the room and are given some answers here and there, but at the same time, the author always raises new and curious questions to keep the mystery alive.
With this being said, I do see how some people might think the book to be a little too long for its own good. If you’re the kind of person who just wants to see the resolution dropped into their lap as fast as possible, then you’re probably going to struggle with certain segments which only feel like they raise more questions rather than provide solutions. I personally love this approach, but to each their own.
I’ll admit it also helps that I found the premise itself to be quite clever and conducive to a long and winding murder mystery, one which in and of itself feels like a prolonged vacation, at least from my reader’s perspective. The events surrounding the room’s history are genuinely interesting and I found myself tightly hooked whenever Joel and Scarlett were uncovering some juicy new pieces of information, regardless of whether it brought me closer to the ultimate revelations.
The Outlandish Hotel
Despite the relatively dark subject matter around which the story revolves, it is coloured by an atmosphere part-ridiculous, part-mad. To begin with, the author’s decision to insert himself as the story’s protagonist, being the most famous writer of his country with the ability to get virtually any woman he wants, prevented me from the very start from treating it like a usual novel. Rather, it felt like I was taking a peek at an alternate reality.
Judging from what I’ve heard, some people seem to have a bit of a problem with Joel Dicker being the main character (with, I have to assume, his successes a little embellished), and I think it stems from the fact they’re taking it a little too seriously. He’s obviously made his character into something of a parody of his own being, a projection of how he’d see himself in a perfect world. I think one can read between the lines, and get a chuckle where it becomes obvious he exaggerates his own prowess.
The environment itself in which the story takes place also reinforces the ridiculous aspect of the atmosphere, depicting a world which seems to look like our own, but a few notches more colourful and prone to improbable coincidences. Being more specific, the hotel itself feels like it was pulled from some different realm into our world.
Being simultaneously a little too perfect and a little too rife with mystery, I found the Verbier to have made the perfect setting for The Enigma of Room 622. Lush in its decor and populated by a wide cast of eccentric guests and idiosyncratic staff members, it feels like there’s always something of import happening somewhere, and always someone plotting something from the shadows. Ultimately, it feels like an outlandish setting, the only kind which could have allowed for the proper development of the novel’s plot.
This particular quality also seeps into the writing itself, jumping back and forth in time on numerous occasions, especially as we get closer and closer to the ending. While these jumps in the narrative can at times be confusing and coming a little too often, in my opinion they only served to reinforce the general ambience, highlighting just how peculiar of a world we’ve landed in.
|592||HarperVia||Sept. 13 2022||978-0063098817|
The Final Verdict
The Enigma of Room 622 by Joel Dicker is certainly an unconventional mystery novel, but one which rewards any reader with patience and a good sense of appreciation for long-winded investigations into the deep past.
If you’re a fan of Joel Dicker’s previous works, or are looking for the kind of mystery novel you can get lost in for days at a time, then I highly recommend you give this unique and unusual work a chance.
Joel Dicker is a Swiss novelist from Geneva with a Masters of Law from the University of Geneva in 2010. At the age of 25 his story titled Les Derniers Jours de nos Pères won him the Geneva’s Writers’ Prize. His subsequent book, titled The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair was translated into over 32 languages and was awarded the 2012 Grand Prix du Roman de l’Académie française as well as the Prix Goncourt des Lyceens.