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Book Author: Nicci French


It’s a joy to read this book.  Usually I don’t think mysteries need to be over 400 pages, and this one tips the scale at 530…but every page is necessary, with a tight plot and a beautifully portrayed cast of characters.

The novel opens with Alec Salter’s 50th birthday party.  He’s Charlotte’s husband, the father of their four children, and a mean-spirited philanderer.  He’s dismissive of his wife and their three sons, acting as a caring father should only to his teenage daughter.

Although the party begins at seven, Charlie (to use Charlotte’s nickname) hasn’t arrived, although it’s after that hour.  Etty, their fifteen-year-old daughter, gets more and more concerned as first the minutes tick by and then the hours.  Finally Etty goes home, hoping that her mother decided not to attend the celebration for some reason.  But she isn’t there, and in fact she’s never seen again.

There’s a town-wide search for Charlie, of course, diligently conducted by her friends and neighbors and less so by the local police who seem to believe that she left of her own free will.  To call their investigation lackadaisical or unprofessional would be polite; they apparently made up their minds early on that the missing woman would turn up in her own good time and didn’t want to spend any additional police time on it.

Then, two days after Charlie’s disappearance, Etty and Greg Ackerley, a neighbor, are continuing the search along the river that runs through the town.  Walking along the track, Etty sees something in the water.  It’s a body, but it’s not Charlie; it’s Greg’s father, Duncan Ackerley.

Again there is no in-depth investigation by the police.  Were Charlie and Duncan romantically involved?  Did she want to break it off and because of that he killed her?  Did he commit suicide because she was gone?  The local police keep changing their theories as to what happened, but there are no real answers.

When we meet the families again after 30 years, we learn how the disappearance of Charlotte Salter affected each of her children and her husband.  As you might imagine, things have not gone well for them emotionally, although each one is trying his/her best to lead a meaningful life.  But the weight of not knowing what happened to their mother, and their secret belief that perhaps she is not dead after all, has left an indelible scar on each one.  And as for Alec, Charlie’s husband, perhaps the reader might be forgiven for thinking that his current situation is just punishment for his past behavior.

This husband and wife writing team consists of Sean French and Nicci Gerard, and after eight outstanding mysteries featuring Frieda Klein, a London-based psychotherapist, they have written more than a dozen stand-alone novels.  I read and enjoyed the Klein novels but wasn’t familiar with their stand-alones until this one.  Not surprisingly, their brilliant plotting and characterizations are evident in Has Anyone Seen Charlotte Salter?

You can read more about the authors at various sites on the web.

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

THE FAVOR by Nicci French: Book Review

A teenage romance that ended with a car crash has its reverberations more than a decade later in Nicci French’s The Favor

Jude’s nose was broken, the couple in the backseat was injured, but Jude’s boyfriend Liam was unhurt.  Liam wasn’t bothered when he was tested for his alcohol level and whisked away by the police, even lifting his hand to Jude in what looked like a gesture of farewell.  Aside from a glance, a glance that left her in tears when she noticed him a few days later with another girl, that was the last time Jude saw him for years.

Now Jude is a geriatrician at a London hospital, engaged to Nat, and busy planning their upcoming wedding.  She’s on her way to meet her fiancé for breakfast when a nurse tells her someone is waiting for her in the lobby, and when she reaches the reception desk she sees it’s Liam.

Jude and Liam catch up on each other’s lives, with Liam telling her that he’s doing alright, has a carpentry business, and is the father of a young son.  He already knows about Jude’s engagement through an old friend, he says, and he’s contacted her to ask a favor.

Liam wants to arrange a meeting with her for the following day.  His plan is then to bring her small bag of his clothing, for her to drive to a cottage several hours from London the day after they meet, pick him up at the area’s train station that evening, and stay with him at the place overnight, emphasizing that the cottage has two bedrooms.

When she asks him to explain he won’t, but he assures her there’s no one else he can ask and that it’s not illegal.  “I wouldn’t ask you to do anything wrong.  Though you mustn’t tell anyone….Nobody at all.”  Thus begins the story of a favor, which blends into a lie, and segues into a murder.

When Liam doesn’t turn up at the train station, Jude realizes she has no way to reach him–no phone number, no email address, and his cell phone is in the bag he’s given her.  She’s furious at herself for not finding out more information about him, about this favor, but she decides she’ll return to London the next day and wait for him to contact her.

Then, in the early hours of the next morning, Liam’s phone rings.  A woman’s introduces herself as Leila Fox, a London police detective, and she tells Jude to stay where she is, that the police will be arriving there shortly.  The local police arrive, followed by Detective Fox, and Jude is told that Liam was found stabbed to death the previous evening.

The police don’t suspect Jude of the murder, but she is still thrust into their investigation.  Their teenage romance was a semi-secret, so the only member of Liam’s family she ever met was his younger brother Dermot, and even that was a very brief chat at the door of the family’s home.

Now she’s meeting the people who have been part of his recent life–Danny, the mother of their son; Vin, Liam’s business partner; two other members of Liam’s commune-type household–Irina and Erika; and of course Liam’s grieving parents.  And they’re all strange, angry, secretive people, or some combination of the three.  Every time Jude attempts to leave them and the police investigation behind, something or someone pulls her back into it.

Written by the masterful husband and wife team of Nicci Gerrard and Sean French, The Favor continues the line of incredible thrillers they’ve written.  You can read more about Nicci French at various sites on the internet.

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

THE LYING ROOM by Nicci French: Book Review

Yes, Neve Connolly is feeling a little guilty as she rides her bicycle for another midday tryst with her lover, Saul.  After all, she is married and the mother of three, and she knows what she’s doing is wrong.  Still, it is wonderful to feel wanted, admired, desired desperately by someone.

So when the text I can see you arrives, she makes breakfast for her family, gives her husband an excuse he has no reason to doubt, and goes to the small apartment Saul keeps “for business reasons.”  And there, lying on the floor of the living room, is Saul in a pool of blood.

Neve’s first thought, naturally, is to call the police emergency number.  But then she wonders about the repercussions, not only for herself but for her teenage daughter Mabel.  Mabel, about to start university, has not handled the difficult teenage years well, exhibiting depression, drug use, anorexia, and behavioral issues.  She is coming out of all that, Neve thinks, or at least hopes, and she can imagine all too well what her arrest would do to her daughter and the rest of her family.

So Neve decides to obliterate all traces of herself in the flat.  She washes Saul’s  towels and sheets and puts them in the dryer, runs the dishwasher, takes a small sketch she had given him and throws it in the trash bag where she’s put other odds and ends.  Finally she’s finished, takes the bag out with her, and leaves it in front of a restaurant in a pile of identical bags.  And she heads for home.

And then comes the tricky part.  It’s not only that she and Saul were lovers, he was her boss.  So the next day, when she goes to work, she has to pretend that nothing is wrong, that she’s not waiting for someone to come in with the news of his death.  And one more thing–Neve realizes that she had taken off her bangle bracelet when she put on rubber gloves to clean, and it is still on the apartment’s kitchen counter.

Nicci French’s latest mystery is outstanding, as are her novels in the Frieda Klein series.  They, the name Nicci French being a combination of Nicci Gerard and Gerald French, an English wife-and-husband writing team, bring the same heart-pounding writing to this stand-alone as they have done to the Klein books.  Neve is a typical English housewife/mother/working woman, trying to balance the many aspects of her life when she is thrown into the center of a horrific situation.  Some of that situation is of her own making, obviously, but as she is innocent of murdering her lover, she engages the reader’s sympathy and understanding.

In addition to Neve, the authors have created a wonderful supporting (or not-so-supporting) cast of characters–Neve’s husband Fletcher, an unfulfilled artist; Mabel, her emotionally unstable daughter; Berenice, Saul’s widow; her colleagues  and her college friends.  But who could have wanted to kill Saul?  What possible reason could there be?

I was unhappy to see the end of the Klein series, but my hopes of reading more Nicci French books have been revived with this stand-alone.  Nicci French knows what she/they are doing.

You can read more about Nicci French at various sites on the internet.

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.



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.

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