Saturday, June 01, 2013

What we're reading: a new mystery series

This isn't actually a brand new series, since the first book, Blue Monday, came out in March of 2012 (in the States--earlier in its native U.K.), but it's new to me. I came across the second book in the series (released April 4, 2013 here) while browsing our New Books shelf, and went to the regular fiction stacks to find the first one so I'd read them in the proper order.

I'm quite glad that I somehow neglected to turn to the back flap of the book before reading it, because if I had, I would have discovered that it's team-written by two authors (husband and wife Sean French and Nicci Gerrard). I have had a couple of disappointing experiences with team-written books, and so that information might have put me off--but I'm so happy I read the book first! This is such an intriguing series, with masterful plotting, rich characters, and great storytelling; it would have been a shame to miss it.

Although this is billed as a psychological thriller (and it is), I also saw another reviewer describe the genre as an "accidental detective" mystery, and I loved that: The main protagonist of the books is Frieda Klein, who isn't actually a detective at all--she's a psychotherapist who has been drawn (by her clients and by her own natural curiosity and quick mind) into working with London Detective Chief Inspector Karlsson to find answers to some truly puzzling crimes.

In Blue Monday, it's a child abduction, of a cheerful redheaded five-year-old named Matthew. There doesn't seem to be a motive, there's no evidence, and the police are giving up hope of finding Matthew as the days stretch into weeks; but when she sees the headlines reporting his abduction, Frieda realizes that the child bears a remarkable resemblance to a "wish" child one of her therapy clients has been describing, and she wonders if he has gone beyond his disturbing dream of fatherhood to steal the child for his own. After struggling with her duty to her client versus possible inside knowledge of a crime, Frieda goes to the police, who initially dismiss her as another "nutter," but a coincidental similarity to an abduction 22 years in the past brings she and the lead DCI on the case together, and, as they say, "the plot thickens."

I really liked the character of Frieda Klein--cool, self-possessed, guarded, and yet willing to go with her intuition and fight to help people. I hope that the other characters who were developed in the first book--not just DCI Karlsson but all the central and peripheral actors in Frieda's life--will be recurring, because I enjoyed them immensely, particularly the Ukrainian builder, Joseph. I also liked the glimpses into odd, backwater bits of London that we get as we follow Frieda on her restless nighttime walks around the city.

In fact, these mysteries remind me in a way of the Simon Serrailler mysteries by Susan Hill--it's the character studies, the wealth of detail, the intense focus, and the intelligent writing.

The second book, Tuesday's Gone, fulfills the promise of the first, but is, if anything, more frustrating for all involved; we have an unidentified corpse, discovered by a social worker sitting on the sofa in the living room of the schizophrenic woman to whom she is paying a home visit, and DCI Karlsson brings Frieda Klein to talk to the woman to see if Frieda can make sense of her inane ramblings. Eventually, the identity of the man is discovered, but this leads to a long trail of more victims, since Robert Poole was an extraordinarily accomplished con man, so the motives for murder abound. The flap copy calls this "a masterpiece of paranoia that draws readers into a fractured and faithless world," and I would have to agree. The twists and turns, the personalities, and the unexpected resurgence of people from Frieda's past all kept me fascinated until the end.

"Nicci French" has (have?) written 12 other books not in this series, and I look forward to trying a few of those while I wait for the third book about Frieda (appropriately titled Waiting for Wednesday), which is destined for release next month in the U.K., but for which I can find no schedule for U.S. publication!

Here is the team's website, and here is an interesting look at how they collaborate to write one book from two minds.

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