The Enigma of Room 622 by Joël Dicker: Featured Excerpt
By Crime HQOctober 11, 2022
The day of the murder (Sunday, December 16)
Six thirty in the morning. The Hôtel de Verbier was dark. Outside, it was pitch black and snowing heavily.
On the sixth floor, the doors of the service elevator opened. A hotel employee appeared with a breakfast tray and made his way toward Room 622.
When he reached the room, he noticed that the door was ajar. Light spilled through the opening. He knocked but there was no response. Finally, he decided to go in, assuming that the door had been left open for that purpose. He walked in and let out a scream. Running from the room, he went to alert his colleagues and call for help.
As the news spread through the hotel, the lights went on, floor by floor.
On the carpet of room 622 lay a corpse.
BEFORE THE MURDER
Love at First Sight
At the start of summer 2018, when I traveled to the Hôtel de Verbier, a well-known luxury hotel in the Swiss Alps, I was far from imagining that I would spend my vacation unraveling a crime that had been committed there many years earlier.
My stay was supposed to provide a welcome break after two small personal traumas in my life. But before I reveal what happened that summer, I need to go back to the beginning of this story: the death of my publisher, Bernard de Fallois.
Bernard is the man to whom I owe everything. My success, my fame, I owe it all to him. It was because of him that people called me a writer. And people read my books because of him.
When we met, I was an unpublished author; he made me a writer whose books were read the world over. Bernard, who resembled an elegant patriarch, had been one of the leading personalities in French publishing. For me, he had been a teacher and most of all, in spite of the sixty-year difference in our ages, a great friend.
In January 2018, Bernard, then ninety-one years old, died, and I reacted to his death the way any writer would: I began writing a book about him. I put my heart and soul into the project, locked in the office of my apartment at 13 Avenue Alfred-Bertrand, in the Champel quarter of Geneva.
As always when writing, the only human presence I could tolerate was that of Denise, my assistant. Denise was the good fairy who watched over me. Always in good spirits, she managed my schedule, sorted and filed the mail from my readers, read and corrected what I had written. She also filled my fridge and supplied me with coffee. And, from time to time, she served as ship’s doctor, landing in my office as if she were stepping on board after an interminable crossing, showering me with advice about my health.
“Go outside!” she ordered, gently. “Take a walk around the park and clear your head. You’ve been locked in here for hours!”
“I already went for my run this morning,” I reminded her.
“You need to get some oxygen to your brain from time to time,” she insisted.
This had become our daily ritual: I complied and stepped out onto the office balcony. I filled my lungs with the cold air of February, then, defying her with an amused look on my face, lit a cigarette. She protested and, sounding annoyed, said, “You know, Joël, I’m not emptying your ashtray. It’s the only way you’ll learn just how much you smoke.”
Our affair lasted two months—two wonderful months. But by then, my book on Bernard had gotten the upper hand. At first, I simply took advantage of the nights when Sloane was at the hospital to continue writing. But the more I wrote, the more I was carried forward by my novel. One evening, she asked me to go out and, for the first time, I declined. “I have to write,” I explained. At first, Sloane was very understanding. She, too, had a job that sometimes kept her away more than she had anticipated.
Then, I turned her down a second time. Once again, she was sympathetic. Please don’t misunderstand me; I adored every minute of the time I spent with Sloane. But I felt that with Sloane it was for the long haul—that our moments of complicity would be repeated indefinitely. The inspiration for a novel, though, could vanish just as easily as it arrived; it was an opportunity I had to take advantage of.
Our first fight took place one evening in mid-June when, after having made love, I got up from her bed to get dressed.
“Where are you going?” she asked.
“Home,” I replied, as if it were perfectly natural. “You’re not going to sleep here with me?”
“No, I’d like to write.”
“So, what, you come over to get laid and then you leave?”
“I have to put some work into the book,” I replied sheepishly.
“But you can’t spend all your time writing!” she shouted. “You spend all your days, all your evenings, even your weekends! It’s insane. You never want to do anything anymore.”
I felt that our relationship was at risk of withering away as quickly as it had burst into flame. I had to act. A few days later, the day before leaving on a ten-day trip to Spain, I took Sloane to dinner at her favorite restaurant, the Japanese place in the Hôtel des Bergues, located on the roof of the building and offering a breathtaking view over the entire city of Geneva. The evening was wonderful. I promised Sloane I would write less and leave more time for “us,” telling her again how much she meant to me. We even made tentative vacation plans for August, in Italy, a country we were both in love with. Would it be Tuscany or Puglia? We would do some research when I returned from Spain.
We remained at our table until the restaurant closed, at one in the morning. The night, at the start of summer, was warm. Throughout the meal I had the strange sensation that Sloane was expecting some- thing from me. And as we were about to leave, when I got up from my chair and the staff began to mop down the terrace around us, Sloane said, “So, you’ve forgotten?”
“It was my birthday today.”
By the time I had got into my car and returned to my building, Sloane was already in her apartment; she had turned off her phone and refused to open the door. I left for Madrid the following morning. While there, I wrote to her many times, but my messages and emails went unanswered.
I got back to Geneva the morning of Friday, June 22, to discover that Sloane had broken up with me.
It was Madame Armanda, the concierge, who was the messenger.
She intercepted me as I arrived at the building. “Here’s a letter for you,” she said.
I opened the envelope at once and found the following message:
It will never work.
See you, Sloane
The words were a stab in the heart. Head down, I walked up to my apartment.
I dragged myself to my office, where I looked for a long while at the pictures of Sloane and me. I grabbed a cardboard box and wrote “Sloane,” followed by the date she had left me: “6/22, a day to forget.” But it was impossible to get Sloane out of my head. Everything reminded me of her. Even the couch in my living room, where I had sprawled out, reminded me how, a few months earlier, on this same spot, on this same fabric, I had begun the most extraordinary relationship of my life, which I had managed to completely sabotage.
It took all my strength not to knock on her door or call her. Early in the evening, no longer able to contain myself, I went out onto the balcony, smoking cigarette after cigarette in the hope that Sloane would step outside and we would fall into each other’s arms. But Madame Armanda, who had seen me from the sidewalk when she went to walk her dog and found me still there on her return an hour later, cried out from the entrance to the building, “There’s no point in waiting, Joël. She’s not there. She went on vacation.”
I returned to my office. I had to get out of there. I wanted to get away from Geneva for a while, to erase my memories of Sloane. I needed calm; I needed peace and quiet. Then I saw, on my table, among my notes on Bernard, the note about Verbier. He loved the place. The idea of going to Verbier for a while, to take advantage of the quiet of the Alps and find myself, appealed to me at once. I turned on my computer and quickly found the home page for the Hôtel de Verbier, a legendary hotel, and the photos that scrolled before my eyes convinced me—the sun-drenched terrace, the Jacuzzi overlooking the magnificent landscape, the half-lit bar and comfortable salons, the suites with fireplaces. It was exactly what I needed. I clicked the reservations tab and keyed in the information.
That’s how it all began.
**Adapted from The Enigma of Room 622 by Joël Dicker and reprinted with permission from HarperVia, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Copyright 2022.