Reviewed by Harriet
The crime-writing couple known as Nicci French have had an amazingly productive and successful career. Having published no less than 11 brilliantly successful standalone psychological thrillers between 1997 and 2010, they had a change of direction with Blue Monday, the first of what has proved to be a series featuring the psychotherapist Frieda Klein. The fifth novel, Friday on my Mind, has just been published, and their fans, me included, will be already longing for the next one – I wonder if the series will end when the days of the week run out?
Frieda Klein is an interesting creation. She is different; though whether you’d put her somewhere on the autism spectrum I’m not sure. She is very much her own woman, enjoys her own company, likes being in her own home, with her cat and her sketching materials. She’s an insomniac, taking long solitary walks through London in the middle of the night. She doesn’t fall into relationships easily but she has a few good friends – Josef the builder, her colleague Ruben, delicate, neurotic Sasha, her niece Chloe, and of course Karlsson the detective. They all care for her deeply, and several of them have saved her from various disastrous situations in which she has been beaten and almost killed. For Frieda, despite loving a quiet life, seems to attract danger and often can’t stop herself from wading in and trying to put things right.
In the earlier novels we have watched Frieda rather reluctantly entering into a relationship with Sandy Holland, come to enjoy it very much, and then break it off. Friday on my Mind begins shockingly with Sandy’s body being found in the Thames – and, strangely, he is wearing a hospital wristband with ‘Dr F Klein’ written on it. The detective assigned to the case, who is familiar with Frieda’s rather dodgy reputation with the police, who think she’s interfering and deluded, immediately seizes on her as the prime suspect. So Frieda, who believes she knows who may have done it, decides to disappear.
So, for the major part of the novel, Frieda is underground. She changes her name, her appearance and her clothes, and takes up residence in some of the most squalid and depressing places imaginable – first a crumbling tower block full of addicts and criminals, and then a community of economic migrants scratching a living. The point of this is so that she can do her own investigations, which naturally enough lead her into highly dangerous and frightening situations.
It’s hard to explain what makes these novels so addictive. I can’t be alone in finding it hard to warm to Frieda who, despite her obvious humanitarian tendencies and her attachment to the people closest to her, generally seems detached and cold. In this novel, she spends some time as a child-minder, and discovers that she quite likes children, which is a bit of surprise to her and also probably to some of her readers. She often gets things wrong, here fixing firmly but erroneously on the person she thinks is the obvious suspect for Sandy’s murder, and takes risks that sometimes seem foolish in the extreme. It was helpful in the last novel, Thursday’s Children [reviewed here], to discover something about her troubled past, which certainly goes a way to explain her curiously autonomous and solitary personality. And yet, despite it all, in the end I can’t help liking and admiring her, as indeed do all the people who really get to know her well.
I certainly didn’t guess the perpetrator, and indeed thought for most of the novel that Frieda was right in her own suspicions. As for the very end of the novel – well, I didn’t see that one coming! Hopefully the Frenchs are already working on whatever Saturday will bring for Frieda and her friends. I shall be first in line.
Nicci French, Friday on my Mind (Michael Joseph: London, 2015). 978-0718179625, 384pp., hardback.