Reviewed by Harriet Devine
People who know and love Nicci French will know at once that this is the fourth outing into the world of Frieda Klein, that troubled, insomniac psychotherapist who has ended up helping to solve a number of particularly disturbing and unpleasant crimes. There must be a lot of people out there who do know and love French, as the cover proclaims ‘Over Eight Million Books Sold’, and I am certainly one of them. If you are not, yet, then you have a treat in store.
Briefly, Nicci French, a husband and wife team (and how on earth do they do it, as everyone must long to know), have written fifteen psychological thrillers, of which the last four feature Frieda Klein. She was introduced in Blue Monday, reappeared in Tuesday’s Gone and Waiting for Wednesday, and here she is again in a novel just as tense and disturbing as the previous three. Certainly for Frieda herself, the tension is greater than ever, and that’s saying something, because here she is forced to return to the Suffolk village where she grew up, and in doing so to face events in her own past which she has attempted to erase from her memory.
The novel starts with an unexpected visit from someone Frieda was at school with, though they were never close. She’s read about Frieda in the papers, and wants her to talk to her teenage daughter Becky, who is withdrawn and anorexic. After their first meeting, Frieda concludes that Becky really needs help, and the during their first formal session the girl reveals that she has been raped in her own bed, though her mother refuses to believe her. This sets a series of events in motion that will end tragically for Becky. Not only that, but Frieda realises that Becky’s experience is an exact replica of something that happened to her twenty years earlier. So back she goes to the village she had left immediately afterwards, fully intending never to return.
Going back to one’s past is always a curious and disturbing experience, but for Frieda, knowing as she now does that the person responsible must be one of the group of friends with whom she grew up, most of whom still live in the area, it is deeply upsetting and terrifying. Old friends and lovers reappear, transmuted in various ways, having moved either up or down the social scale, one of whom she knows must be a serial rapist. And if this wasn’t enough to cope with, she is still acting as a surrogate mother to her niece Chloe, and wrestling with the difficulties inherent in her on-off relationship with her lover Sandy. Most disturbing of all, she still aware that a psychopathic killer, who everyone else believes is dead, is still alive and constantly on her track. Unfortunately past events have made the police wary of her, and even her friend D.I. Karlsson, finds it impossible to help and support her.
I’ve enjoyed all the Frieda Klein novels, but I think in many ways this was my favourite. Frieda has always been, for me, a difficult protagonist to love. She is, indeed, pretty strange in many ways. She almost never sleeps, preferring instead to walk around London for most of the night, eats little, and apart from a few close friends, tends to shun human interaction. Her relationship with Sandy has been endlessly problematic, and I have to say I feel deeply sorry for the poor man, who wants nothing more than a normal loving connection with someone who really will probably never be able to have such a thing. In previous novels, Frieda has always been extremely cagey about her past, but here it is finally revealed, and does in many ways make sense of her extreme need for autonomy and solitude.
So this novel is highly recommended, and not just for anyone who’s read the earlier ones in the series. It could easily be read as a stand-alone, though you’ll certainly want to go back to read the previous ones afterwards. French is undoubtedly one of the best British crime novelists writing today, so if by chance you are not yet a fan, do please give this one a go. If you are, you won’t need any urging.
Harriet Devine is one of the editors of Shiny New Books.
Nicci French, Thursday’s Children (Michael Joseph: London, 2013). 9780718156992, hardback, 421 pp.