Book Review

The Disappearance of Stephanie Mailer by Joël Dicker tr. by Howard Curtis

In the summer of 1994, the quiet seaside town of Orphea reels from the discovery of three murders.

Confounding their superiors, two young police officers, Jesse Rosenberg and Derek Scott crack the case and identify the killer, earning themselves handsome promotions and the lasting respect of their colleagues.

But twenty years later, 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 at liberty, perhaps ready to strike again. Before she can give any more details however, Stephanie Mailer mysteriously disappears without trace, and Rosenberg and Scott are forced to confront the awful possibility that her suspicions might have been accurate.

What happened to Stephanie Mailer?

What did she know?

And what really happened in Orphea all those years ago?

I’m a big fan of Joël Dicker’s work having loved The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair and The Baltimore Boys, and was thrilled when The Disappearance of Stephanie Mailer was published in English earlier this year. 

I think that the premise of The Disappearance of Stephanie Mailer is excellent – I find the idea of two police officers solving a case that sets them on the path to great things when they potentially got it wrong very intriguing.  And of course, it’s set up in such a way that we don’t know why they were wrong, just that they were.  I was hooked from the first page.  It’s puzzling, particularly when journalist Stephanie Mailer, who has been investigating the events in Orphea, disappears before she can share her findings and suspicions, leaving the two officers in question to revisit the case themselves.  What follows is an excellent police procedural as Jesse and Derek investigate both Stephanie’s disappearance in the present day as well as the original case from twenty years, trying to work out what they missed.

I really liked the characters in the novel – particularly Jesse Rosenburg.  Upon meeting Stephanie Mailer, Jesse immediately starts digging into the case, trying to work out what was missed at the time and whether it would have changed anything.  It’s a cold case, and has added complexity because of that, but I liked his diligence in trying to get to the bottom of things – he’s a man who will leave no stone unturned, despite the fact that he’s made the decision to take early retirement and is about to leave the police force.  There’s a real sense of him wanting to do the right thing, even though it might mean admitting that he and his partner got it wrong twenty years ago, and I cheered him on throughout the novel as he tries to work out what’s what.

The structure of the novel works well to share both the original investigation in Orphea, told from Derek’s perspective, and the present day events which are narrated predominantly by Jesse and fellow officer Betsy, with a few other points of view thrown in to enhance the narrative.  It allows the reader to get involved in both the original investigation whilst also seeing the investigation today as new information comes to light.  It provides the reader with a huge amount of information, imparted gradually so as not to overwhelm the reader, and also allowing you to assess the evidence step by step. 

Like Dicker’s other novels, The Disappearance of Stephanie Mailer is long, complex, and features a large number of characters.  There is a dramatis personae at the end of the novel which helps, but I did have to remind myself who certain individuals were and what their role was as I was reading.  With clues and red herrings aplenty, I had no hope of working out who was responsible – each time I decided it was a certain individual, my theory was quickly disproved.  The Disappearance of Stephanie Mailer is an enjoyable read and one that I recommend, particularly if you’ve enjoyed his other novels.

The Disappearance of Stephanie Mailer was published in the UK in May by MacLehose Press.  It is translated from the French by Howard Curtis.


  1. I really liked The Harry Quebert affair and would really like to read more of Joel Dickers work but haven’t got round to it. Great review and I like the sound of this book.

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