Making his TV debut with The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair, French film director Jean-Jacques Annaud adapts Joël Dicker’s popular novel of the same name for this twisty, mystery 10-episode drama series.
Starring as the eponymous character, Patrick Dempsey is Harry Quebert, a renowned literary professor and famous author. His protégé and new kid on the block, Marcus Goldman (Ben Schnetzer), has writer’s block and spends his days dodging agents requesting a follow-up to his first megahit. Seeking inspiration, he travels to Maine to reconnect with his old professor, Quebert. However, things take a turn for the worse when Harry is arrested for the murder of fifteen-year-old Nola Kellergan (Kristine Froseth), who disappeared in the 70s. Marcus, along with Sgt. Perry Gahalowood (Damon Wayans Jr.), delve deep into the lives of the Maine townsfolk to discover what really happened in the summer of 1975.
Episode one is incredibly interesting in terms of character development. Marcus, unbelievably cocky off the back of his success, comes off nauseating and frankly unworthy of our backing for protagonist. Whereas Harry, the respected literary genius, seems to be the kind and humble hero who is accused of a crime he didn’t commit. We think we have Harry figured out — he couldn’t possibly have killed Nola, could he? He is innocent and Marcus is the only one who can prove it. The Harry Quebert Affair isn’t quite so simple.
As the show unfolds, Harry and Marcus swiftly exchange roles, with Marcus becoming our eyes and ears as he peels back the layers on the man he thought he knew. Maine, providing an ideal backdrop — perfectly picturesque yet hiding dark secrets — plays a vital role. Maine, Harry’s home for the last thirty years, is a romanticised version of a writer’s life with the diner transporting us back to his days as a young novelist. The show cleverly weaves in and out of past and present, pre- and post-literary masterpieces, pre- and post-Nola’s disappearance.
A pivotal relationship of the series is between Harry and Nola, which is uncomfortable to say the least, but their relationship is explored in a way we don’t usually see on screen. Is it wrong? Yes. But it is handled well here, not used merely as a shock tactic or for gratuitous exploitation. Their first interaction — on the beach, her dancing in the rain — their mutual attraction is obvious. Disturbing, yes, but never used to sickening effect. A meeting of minds more than anything else.
Nola aside, it is Harry’s relationship with Marcus that is at the core of the series, with their bond evolving from heartfelt to maddening to completely heartbreaking. Each taking steps to protect one another but, ultimately, the wounds they have inflicted may never heal. Though, as the series progresses and their relationship fractures, Marcus forms an unlikely bond with Perry as they strive to solve the case. Perry could easily have become a replacement for Harry but his alliance with Marcus is fresh and comes from a better place. Perry is a new beginning for our protagonist – he is everything Harry isn’t and a perfect foil for Marcus. Their scenes together evolve into one of the most fascinating aspects of the show and, together, offer light relief from its subject matter.
Patrick Dempsey is brilliant as Harry Quebert. Shedding his Grey’s Anatomy-era “McDreamy” image, Dempsey portrays the young up-and-coming writer and mature literary professor sporting (not entirely convincing) old age makeup. His Quebert is quiet, pensive, with the weight of the world on his shoulders. A stark contrast to the young, lively and bright-eyed man we see decades before. Dempsey is brilliant at making you believe Harry has been put through the wringer. His voice and demeanor seem to have been worn down over time to unearth the suffering, wearier man underneath. Ben Schnetzer, however, is the star of the show and his character undergoes the biggest arc out of everyone and, while initially insufferable, he more than proves himself by the end. Schnetzer handles his scenes with a fierce determination as he probes deeper into Harry’s past but, as his egotistical façade begins to slip, Schnetzer unearths a kinder, more mature, human being underneath.
Kristine Froseth — with her goofy, childlike grin and doe eyes — is a perfect match opposite Dempsey. Her sweet, innocent nature conceals a deeper mystery and Froseth is fantastic, conducting her scenes with maturity well beyond her years. The show also provides an excellent supporting cast including Virginia Madsen, Kurt Fuller, Matt Frewer, Colm Feore and Joshua Close, Close being a particular standout.
The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair contains twist after twist and never fails to keep you guessing – this is a genuine card-carrying whodunit. But the thing is, a whodunnit deserves a cracker of an ending, and this is where TTATHQA just falls short. It’s a satisfactory ending but doesn’t quite pack the punch the marvelous build-up suggests. Its narrative could easily have become bogged down with the number of flashbacks, but they are presented remarkably well. They are consistently effective in providing a window into the scope of Harry and Marcus’ relationship, with their later scenes together all the more meaningful because of them. The show never fails to remain suspenseful and the acting first rate. A continually absorbing show.