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The Devil of Nanking    by Mo Hayder order for
Devil of Nanking
by Mo Hayder
Order:  USA  Can
Penguin, 2006 (2005)
Hardcover, Paperback
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Mo Hayder - author of such creepy, scary chillers as Birdman and The Treatment - brings us The Devil of Nanking, a terrifying tale, with rich veins of history, psychological suspense, and horror. The modern day story is interspersed with flashbacks of the life of a young Chinese couple, and what happened to them both during the 1937 Nanking Massacre, when Japanese soldiers stormed the then Chinese capital and 'embarked on a month-long frenzy of rape, torture and mutilation.'

The two characters we follow are an odd young Englishwoman named Grey, and an old Chinese professor, Shi Chongming. Something terrible in Grey's youth sent her to spend time in psychiatric institutions - she hints at it through the story, revealing the full horrors only near the ending. Shi Chongming has in his possession film from Nanking that Grey believes documents something she read about as a child, something that precipitated her own dreadful experience. No-one believed her at the time, and she even doubts herself, but is obsessed with finding the truth. Her single-mindedness sends her to Tokyo with little money and no resources to call upon. She seeks the professor and demands to see the film, but he repeatedly sends her away.

A chance encounter with a handsome Westerner named Jason - who calls her weirdo and appreciates her oddness - results in a job and a place to live for Grey. She, Jason, a couple of Russian girls, and a few ghosts share a decrepit, semi-abandoned house for low rent. Grey and the Russians work as hostesses at a club, Some Like It Hot, run by Mama Strawberry, who admires Marilyn Monroe and takes a liking to Grey. The Russians warn Grey about Jason's sick taste in videos, but she is increasingly attracted nevertheless. At the club, an ancient yakuza boss, Mr. Fuyuki, shows up occasionally, accompanied by a sinister Nurse, who treats him with a very special medicine (Grey picks up hints of cannibalism).

Grey and Shi Chongming eventually come to an understanding that he will show her the film if she will get information on Fuyuki's treatment for him. This search takes Grey into great danger, and people die horribly. And, as this unfolds, we also learn what happened in Nanking, where the professor countered his young wife Shujin's superstitions with logic, to his eternal regret. Throughout this nightmarish story, author and characters draw a key distinction between ignorance and evil. And as this very disturbing novel draws to a satisfying and symmetrical close, Shi Chongming tells Grey something she needs to hear, 'Ignorance you can forgive.'

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