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Book Author: Nicci French

DARK SATURDAY by Nicci French: Book Review

Back in 2012 I reviewed Nicci French’s first thriller, Blue Monday, featuring Frieda Klein and raved about it.  Since then I’ve read all those that followed, except for one (can’t imagine how I missed it).  Now comes Dark Saturday, definitely among the top five mysteries I’ve read this year.

Frieda is a psychotherapist, which in England is apparently the term for what Americans call a psychiatrist, with more than her own share of demons.  In addition to a private practice, she has also consulted with the London police, although at the opening of this novel they have parted ways due to grave trust issues on both sides.  But now she’s approached by Walter Levin, a mysterious figure who is either a government official or not; in any event, he helped Frieda in the novel immediately preceding this one, and now he’s called on her to repay the favor.

Hannah Docherty was eighteen years old when she was convicted of murdering her mother, stepfather, and younger brother and sent to Chelsworth Hospital, a place for the criminally insane.  During the thirteen years since, she has remained virtually silent, not speaking to any of the staff, the other patients, or the therapists trying to help her.  The Docherty case was investigated by police detective Ben Sedge; after a brief investigation he arrested Hannah, who was duly convicted and sentenced to life at Chelsworth.

For nearly all of those years Hannah has been in solitary confinement, yet somehow, when Frieda visits her, she is a mass of bruises and scars and she appears to have been drugged.  The hospital staff doesn’t seem to care.  As far as Frieda can ascertain, no one has visited Hannah since her conviction.  As one of the nurses says, “Why would any relative want to see her?”

Something about Hannah resonates with Frieda, and almost against her will she agrees to look over the woman’s file and find out more about the case.  The issue has come up, the therapist is told, not because there’s any doubt about Hannah’s guilt–“it’s the most open-and-shut case I’ve ever seen” according to a police official–but because there’s a question of how the case was handled.  If there’s no issue concerning the perpetrator of the crimes, Frieda tells Levin, “then there’s no harm in me looking at the files.”  But, of course, when you open a box, you can never be sure what’s going to fly out.

The Frieda Klein series is outstanding.  The writing is sharp, the plots convincing, and the protagonist is full of strengths and weaknesses that will keep you reading one book after another.  For best results, as they say in commercials, start with Blue Monday and read the remaining novels in order.  Each book can be read on its own, of course, but the power of the series is in following the development of the various characters–Frieda, her somewhat wayward niece Chloe, her former therapist Reuben, the police detective Kerrigan, and several others whose voices are complements to Frieda’s.

Nicci French is the pen name of the wife-and-husband writing team of Nicci Gerrard and Sean French.  Information about them is available at various websites.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

BLUE MONDAY by Nicci French: Book Review

“Wow” is the only word with which to begin a review of Blue Monday.  It expresses my thoughts about every part of the novel–the plot, the characters, the setting.

Two sisters are walking home from school in 1987.  The nine-year-old girl wants to get to the neighborhood candy store quickly and is annoyed that the younger one, age five, is loitering and holding her back.  Finally, the older girl’s desire for candy gets too strong, and she runs ahead to start looking at the display cases and choosing her treats.  And then, two minutes later when she looks around, her sister is gone.

Skip ahead to the present and meet Frieda Klein, a well-regarded, thirty-something psychiatrist.  A new patient is brought to Frieda at the clinic where she works.  Alan Dekker had originally been referred to another psychiatrist, but that referral didn’t work out well.  It went so badly, in fact, that Alan is thinking of making an official complaint.  Thus the patient is brought to Frieda in hopes she can work with him and possibly dissuade him from reporting the first doctor.

Alan at first seems to be in the middle of a mid-life crisis, although he’s a bit young for that, but it gradually comes out that he’s having a type of panic attack.  He and his wife want children, but lately he has been unable to perform sexually and refuses to consider adoption.  He wants a child of his own, he says, both to his wife and Frieda.

He’s been dreaming about this child and describes the child and his dream in detail:  it will be a boy, five years old, with red hair like his, and he’s teaching him to play football.  He admits to Frieda that he’s had similar attacks and dreams in the past, when he was in his early twenties, but that time his dreams involved a young girl.  Alan doesn’t know why he’s having these attacks and dreams again, more than twenty years later, but they are definitely impacting his life and his relationship with his wife.

And then, several days after Alan discusses his dream with Frieda, a five-year-old boy is snatched from in front of his school in an almost exact repeat of the abduction of the five-year-old girl twenty-two years earlier.  And Frieda isn’t sure what to make of Alan and his dream.

This powerful novel is the first in a series featuring Frieda Klein.  We’re given little information about her.  She’s single, never been married, and for some reason is estranged from her birth family.  Her only contact with relatives is with her neurotic sister-in-law Olivia whose husband, Frieda’s brother, has left her for a much younger woman, and her niece Chloe who has been cutting herself for years.

Blue Monday is a powerful novel, one that will have your heart racing.  All the characters have deep layers, some of which are peeled off one by one, but there are always some remaining.  The ending has multiple surprises, but they all make sense.

Nicci French is the pseudonym of Sean French and Nicci Gerrard, an English husband and wife writing team.  The second book in the Frieda Klein series has just been released in the United States, and you may be sure I’ll be reading it before the year ends.

You can read more about the Nicci French collaboration on their web site.

You can see my entire blog at:  http://www.marilynsreads.com