"They Devil of Nanking" by Mo Hayder is a surprise of a novel. In many ways, this is a good thing. In other ways, it was unpleasant. Mo Hayder is an excellent writer and apparently does her research. However, "The Devil of Nanking" was handled a little oddly.
Given the name, one would think that most, if not all, of the sadism in "The Devil of Nanking" would take place in 1937 Nanking, China, but that is not the case. The book alternates between Tokyo, Japan in 1990 and Nanking, China in 1937. In Mo Hayder's version of Tokyo, there are sadists around every corner and there is a great deal of sexual violence and implied sexual violence. The violence that takes place in Nanking is only hinted at until the latter half of the novel. While the Nanking violence is expected, given historical accounts of the events that took place in Nanking, the Tokyo violence is a little much. I am not opposed to violence, be it sexual or otherwise, in my novels, but I found it out of place in a novel about Nanking. In fact, and you will rarely hear me say this, I found it distasteful given the subject matter of the book. It takes away from the history, which is the sole reason I picked up the book.
With the above being said, Mo Hayder did not do a bad job with the direction she decided to take the book. It is over the top, but it is well written. In fact, I initially thought I would not want to finish the book. Despite my unwillingness to read about a group of tortuous sexual sadists and a naive girl lost in the midst of them, I found myself pulled into the story. Any writer who leaves answers dangling until later in the book can do this to me. I am one of those readers who has to know. If you are the same, you will find yourself whizzing through "The Devil of Nanking." I read it in a single night.
As for Hayder's handling of the Nanking parts of the book, I found them interesting, for the most part. Of course, she went a little over the top, which was unnecessary. One does not need to stray from fact to make the events of the Rape of Nanking horrifying. Nonetheless, most of it was the struggle of a man and wife trying to survive hidden in their home in Nanking. That was touching and did much to redeem the otherwise B-movie caliber violence in the novel.
Would I suggest this book to someone else? Yes, I know people whose tastes run to the poorly done macabre. I also think the novel is worth reading, just not worth reading twice for me. I prefer my modern senseless violence to be crammed into a book like "A Clockwork Orange." I also prefer my books on Holocaust level violence in history to be respectful of the subject matter. There is no need to embellish, but that is exactly what Mo Hayder did.