Category Archives: French Nicci

The Day of the Dead: Nicci French

The Day of the Dead is an ominous title for the final book in the Frieda Klein series from husband-and-wife writing team “Nicci French” (Nicci Gerrard and Sean French). For those playing catch-up, this is the eighth book in the series which follows London psychologist Frieda Klein. I’ll add here that in spite of the fact that this book includes many repeat characters, it can be read as a standalone, but if you want to get a bit more out of the story, I’d recommend that you read at least the first one in the series: Blue Monday.

the day of the dead

The Day of the Dead begins with a horrific incident in London which leaves many people wounded, but as the police begin to investigate what seems like an accident, the incident turns into something much more sinister. This murder case initially baffles police, but then another body surfaces, and another, and another…..

Meanwhile, Frieda Klein (who doesn’t appear until we’re really deep into the plot) is in hiding. In Blue Monday, she met serial killer, psychopath Dean Reeve, and although he was supposedly dead at the end of the book, Frieda has insisted to the police for years that Dean was still alive. And considering how her life has been turned into a theatre of blood and murder since meeting Dean, she may be onto something.

Dean Reeve is the ultimate predator, and over the course the series he’s played a cat-and-mouse game with Frieda, always close by, always circling. To some, Frieda’s claims about Dean Reeve are too fantastic to be believed, and she is regarded as an attention seeking nut, a woman “who has left a trail of havoc behind her,” but Frieda also has her defenders.

In The Day of the Dead, the police finally have to acknowledge that Dean Reeve is alive, and into his current string of showy murders stumbles a young confused criminology student named Lola who has become so interested in Frieda that she decides to write a dissertation “deconstructing” the psychologist. Lola seeks Frieda and manages to find her, but with Dean Reeve circling, Lola doesn’t want to leave Frieda’s side. Frieda is in hiding for a reason as she knows that those close to her are in danger from Dean. Frieda knows that Dean “is reaching the end. One way or another.” 

Although this book clocks in at just over 400 pages, it was a very quick, addictive read. The novel’s strongest point, IMO, is that Frieda, having dealt with Dean Reeve, never underestimates him. Psychopaths are underestimated by novices who cannot even begin to imagine how someone like Dean thinks. Most of us are lucky enough to live our lives without ever crossing the path of a psychopath, but if you’re unfortunate enough to ever tangle with a sicko and survive, you move forward into an unsettling life. The authors nailed this feeling.  As the novel builds to its inevitable crescendo, the pacing is excellent. While Frieda seems to have reached a zen-like plateau in her acceptance of this, her final duel with Dean, the character of limpet-like Lola is rather annoying. The authors pulled a bit of a switcheroo with the plot, and I might have been a bit annoyed about it had I not already guessed it. Still, if you are in the mood for a a crime novel that sucks you and and refuses to let go, then The Day of the Dead may fit the bill.

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Sunday Silence: Nicci French

“After all, you’re a psychiatrist. You’re an expert in people’s dark sides.” 

Sunday Silence is the seventh novel in the Nicci French (husband and wife writing team Nicci Gerrard and Sean French ) Frieda Klein series. If you haven’t at least read some of the series, then you don’t want to start with this book. In fact you need to go back to the beginning, to Blue Monday, the first Frieda Klein novel, which introduces the complicated world of our London-based psychotherapist Frieda Klein, and also her arch-nemesis, Dean Reeve.

Sunday Silence

Sunday Silence opens with Frieda’s world becoming (once again) the object of public scrutiny. A body is discovered under the floorboards of her London home, and since Frieda’s house/office has become a crime scene, she finds she must relocate, at least temporarily, to her friend, Reuben’s house.

The prickly Chief Inspector Petra Burge is in charge of the investigation, but the crime pulls Detective Chief Inspector Karlsson, who’s out on leave due to a broken leg, and Constable Yvette Long back into the game. Other returning series characters include: builder Josef (who discovered the body during renovations) and Frieda’s troubled niece, Chloe. It’s always satisfying to reconnect with series characters and see how their lives have progressed. In Reuben’s case, he’s suffering from cancer.

The body is identified as ex-policeman Bruce Stringer who was hired by Frieda to find Dean Reeve, so of course, the finger points towards Dean Reeve as the murderer. Dean Reeve was thought to have committed suicide years earlier, but Frieda has always insisted that he’s still alive. This murder seems to prove that she’s right.

Frieda is as complicated as ever, and as usual, she never reacts as she is expected to react. As the case gains national attention and reporters circle, there’s one scene that takes place during a press conference. She’s been groomed as to how she should behave.

Frieda opened her eyes. “There are psychiatrists who are interested in violence and evil but I’m not one of them. I’m a therapist and I deal with ordinary unhappiness. I don’t have any big theory about Dean Reeve. At a certain point in his life, I just got in the way.”

Months pass, and the furor over the crime dies down, and then attacks begin on people in Frieda’s life. … Frieda, a character full of contradictions, must curse the day she ran into Dean Reeve. And while she says she ‘just got in his way,’ we can’t help but feel that there’s a bit more afoot. It’s a terrible thing to become a psychopath’s object of interest, and the more he understands about his victim, then the more vulnerable that person becomes. Will this page-turner (one of the best of the ones I’ve read in this series) bring a close to the near-invisible cat-and-mouse relationship that’s existed between Frieda and Dean?

Regular readers of this blog know that I have a fondness for books about therapists, so I enjoyed this one.

I always thought it was a mistake for Frieda to live AND work in the same place. Just saying…

There’s an eighth book in the series: Day of the Dead scheduled for July 2018 in the US

Cleo also read and enjoyed the book. (UK title: Sunday Morning Coming Down)

Review copy

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Waiting for Wednesday by Nicci French

“We’re taught to beware of strangers,” she said. “It’s our friends most of us should worry about.”

Author Nicci French is an amalgamation of names for writing team, husband and wife Nicci Gerrard and Sean French, and together they’ve written a number of books of domestic, psychological  suspense and crime. I first across “Nicci French” through film adaptations, and curious, I turned to the books and have read several. A few years ago, a new crime series was launched which featured a London based psychotherapist Frieda Klein. First came Blue Monday, then Tuesday’s  Gone, and this is number three in the series: Waiting for Wednesday. Given my interest in books featuring psychotherapists, naturally I’m in for the series.

Waiting for WednesdayWaiting for Wednesday finds Frieda Klein recovering from injuries she suffered in Tuesday’s Gone. She’s been replaced as a consultant for the police by her enemy, snide, pompous Hal Bradshaw. So while her professional life is in the toilet, in her personal life, she’s in a long-term, but long-distance relationship with New York based Sandy. The book begins with the brutal murder in the suburbs of Ruth Lennox, a middle-aged woman, a seemingly perfect person–an excellent wife and mother, a health visitor for the local authority, and the epitome of respectability. Clues at the scene hint that this is a burglary gone wrong, but Detective Chief Inspector Malcolm Karlsson soon has reason to doubt the easiest solution.

While Karlsson and Detective Constable Yvette Long become embroiled in the murder of Ruth Lennox, another plot thread follows retired journalist Jim Fearby, a man who for years has relentlessly campaigned for the release of convicted murderer, George Conley. Conley was arrested near the body of a dead eighteen-year-old girl, and although he eventually confessed, Fearby is convinced that Conley is innocent. He believes that the dead girl was just one victim of a serial killer who operates by grabbing his pedestrian prey in lonely country roads.

The plot juggles the investigation behind the Lennox murder and Jim Fearby’s hunt for a serial killer. Also, of course, there’s also Frieda with a tarnished professional reputation, and now persona non gratis as far as Karlsson’s boss is concerned. Frieda becomes involved with the Lennox murder through a personal connection, and unfortunately that only serves to fuel Hal Bradshaw’s enmity.

As a series novel, Waiting for Wednesday shows the difficulties writers face when bringing readers up to speed. Initially synopses of past events cover an explanation for Frieda’s injuries and  exactly why she’s no longer paid by the police as a consultant. Readers have either read the earlier novels or not, and the explanatory passages are an annoyance if you’re read the other books.

The book’s title, Waiting for Wednesday, struck me as an interesting choice, because that’s just what the book seems to be–we’re waiting for something to happen, and the book seems, more than anything else, a breather novel in between catastrophes. For those who’ve read the earlier novels, the thing we’re waiting for  involves Dean Reeve, a major character in Blue Monday, a dangerous man who’s out there somewhere on the loose, watching Frieda, now acting like one psycho deranged guardian angel as he bides his time for some bigger agenda. While this novel includes a number of dead bodies and the hunt for a serial killer, somehow all the action seems overwhelmed by the evidence that Dean is still out there. The result is that when the solution to the serial killings arrives, it arrives with an anticlimactic whimper–not a bang.

Frieda was established as a recluse in Blue Monday, but now her life is chaotic and completely out-of-control. Her home, a former sanctuary, now gets more action than Grand Central Station, again with the result that the book seems to be waiting for something to happen… something to change. And then just how does Frieda make a living? It’s certainly not by seeing patients, although the odd one pops up occasionally. Again there’s the sense that a big storm is on the horizon but it doesn’t appear here in this novel; it’s brewing.

In the future, Frieda’s life must either get sorted or implode. Dean must either make a serious move in Frieda’s sphere or bugger off and forget his obsession. Frieda must decide whether or not to commit to Sandy and move to New York or else end this long distance romance and spare herself from his annoying e-mails. Many things have to happen, but none of them happened here.

When Frieda is finally allowed on the crime scene  (another problem with the book–after all, exploring the criminal mind, and not child-minding is what she does best), the novel lights up as she discusses her insights into the life of the murder victim, Ruth Lennox with Karlsson:

“There’s nothing here she wouldn’t want to be seen,” she said.

“What do you mean?”

“I always think that nobody’s life can tolerate a spotlight shone into its corners.”

“But?”

“But from everything you tell me and everything I’ve seen, hers seems entirely ready for the spotlight, don’t you think? As if this house were a stage.”

“A stage for what?”

“For a play about being good.”

“I’m supposed to be the cynical one. So you mean you think nobody can be that good?”

“I’m a therapist, Karlsson. Of course that’s what I think. Where are Ruth Lennox’s secrets?”

Another strength of the novel is character of Jim Fearby, a man so obsessed with finding a serial killer who may or who may not exist, that the rest of his life disintegrates without him even noticing. When Fearby meets Frieda, there’s a meeting of obsessives, and together their skills mesh to discover the truth. Waiting for Wednesday–the solution to the Lennox murder, and even the hunt for the serial killer (whose identity I guessed) seemed lethargic when compared to Blue Monday, but I’m hoping the quality improves for the next novel in the series.

 Review copy

 

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Blue Monday by Nicci French

“Everyone hates Mondays. It’s the low point of the week. When the alarm clock goes off on Monday morning and it’s still dark outside, and you know you have to haul yourself out of bed and begin all over again.”

I’ve seen a couple of made-for-television films based on Nicci French books–Without You and  Secret Smile to be specific. I’ve intended to read one of the novels for some time, and I was lucky enough to get a review copy of Blue Monday, a book I wanted to read after seeing reviews on Caroline’s blog and also on Reading Matters. Blue Monday is, according to the authors, Nicci Gerrard and Sean French, a husband and wife team–the first in a series of eight, so sign me up for the long haul; I’m hooked.

The novel begins very strongly with the disappearance of a five-year-old child. It’s 1987, a Monday and two little girls, sisters Joanna and Rosa walk home from school together, but when Rosa loses sight of her sister for just an instance, Joanna disappears. The novel charts the case with gripping intensity and poignant moments: the initial intense investigation, the suspects, the guilt, the grief, and then finally the acceptance that this child has vanished. Joanna’s father, the main suspect at one point, is a wreck of man who compares  Joanna’s disappearance and the subsequent fallout to the unravelling of piece of knitting:

“Everything simply comes undone and in just a few moments nothing’s left to show anything was ever there.”

Fast forward twenty-two years; it’s another Monday and psychotherapist Frieda Klein is introduced into the story. She runs a small practice in London, lives alone, and is given to solitary walks at night–a habit that suits her insomnia and allows her to think through her many problems–both personal and professional. Her latest patient is Alan Dekker, a married man in his 40s. Lately Alan doesn’t feel quite well and suffers from nameless anxieties, panic attacks and the feeling that “a storm’s coming.” He admits to a “sense of being in the wrong life,” and wonders if he’s having some sort of mid-life crisis. Plagued by nightmares and strange visions, he consents to therapy and through circumstance, ends up sitting in front of Frieda. Although Alan is tightly wound and an introvert, he admits to longing for a child, a little red-haired boy, and then Frieda realises that Alan’s description uncannily matches the description of a missing five-year-old boy. Frieda faces a moral dilemma–should she tell the police or are her client’s fantasies harmless and coincidental? This moral dilemma leads Frieda to step outside of the patient-therapist boundaries and into the investigations of two missing children.

The authors successfully mesh the investigation of the missing boy with Frieda’s private and personal life. She struggles with her relationship with her one-time mentor, Reuben, who now finds himself bored by his patients and unable to concentrate on his cases, and Frieda must also come to a decision regarding Sandy, a man she’s finally allowed into her life. Then there’s her needy sister-in-law and her self-mutilating niece who aren’t above using a little emotional blackmail to exact a bigger slice of Frieda’s time. This is a lot for Frieda to absorb in her personal life while maintaining balance enough to help patients. Here’s Reuben on being burned out as a therapist:

You wouldn’t believe where I’ve gone. You wouldn’t believe the shit that flows through my human brain, and I’ve walked through it up to my neck. Men have told me things about children and women have told me things about their fathers and their uncles, and I don’t know why they didn’t just go out of the room and blow their fucking brains out, and I thought if I went on the journey with them, if I showed them that they weren’t alone, that someone could share it, then maybe they could come back and make something of their lives. And you know what? After thirty years of it, I’ve had it.

Frieda makes a marvellous series character; she’s intense, incredibly mentally tough, a loner, and committed to her job. Her main premise is that her job is “helping people sort the story of their lives. Give them a narrative,” yet in true therapist fashion (and I have a weakness with stories that feature therapists as characters), Frieda is often weighed down with her own problems. There are hints of Frieda’s problems with her mostly invisible family, and she readily admits she’s not sure of her own narrative. But Frieda isn’t the only fascinating character here, and there are plenty of hints that we’re going to see more of Ukrainian Josef,  Detective Inspector Yvette Long and her boss, divorced Detective Chief Inspector Malcolm Karlsson. While I guessed two of the plots twists and turns (one of which caused me to become somewhat annoyed with the police investigation), Blue Monday, comparable to the best of Ruth Rendell is full of engaging, sympathetic characters who demand sustained attention, and is an excellent beginning to a new series of page-turning psychological suspense novels. Given the ending, I’d hazard a guess that there’s some unfinished business in this story that will reemerge somewhere in the next seven novels.  

Finally here’s a quote from Frieda, an observation on one of her walks which ties in very subtly with the disappearance of a child twenty-two years before and whose traces remain only in the minds of those who loved her:

But Frieda was walking along the course of an old river. She had always been drawn to it. Once it had flowed through fields and orchards down to the Thames. It had been a place for people to sit by, to fish in, What would they have thought, men and women sitting on a summer evening, dangling their feet in the water, if they had seen its future? It had become a rubbish dump, a sewer, a ditch clogged with shit and dead animals and everything else that people couldn’t be bothered to do anything with. Finally it had been built over and forgotten about. How could a river be forgotten about? When she walked this way, Frieda always stopped by a grating where you could still hear the river flowing deep below like an echo of something. And when you had left that behind, you could still walk between the banks rising on either side. Even the occasional street name hinted at the wharves where barges had been unloaded and before that the rises, the grass slopes where people sat and just watched the crystal water flow down into the Thames. That was London. Things built upon things built upon things, each in their turn forgotten about but each somehow leaving a trace, if only a rush of water heard through a grating.

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