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Author of the Month

Name: Nicci French

First Novel: The Memory Game

Most Recent Book: Blue Monday

'...a truly gorgeous, well handled, dark, Gothic psychological chiller that slowly and luxuriously unwinds with every page.'

Synopsis:
Frieda Klein is a psychotherapist. She is currently helping a middle-aged man called Alan who has been seeing Frieda since he threatened to complain about another therapist he had been seeing. But instead of being disinterested, Frieda is worried that she is hearing more than a man’s fears and worries - she believes he may be confessing to her.

Alan is unable to have children but in his imagination he craves a child - a boy that is his, has his features, his bright red hair…

Then a child is taken. Matthew Farraday - a young boy with bright red hair.

Caught between her conscience and professional discretion, Frieda must make a decision, one she cannot take lightly as she has Alan’s interests to think of as well as possibly saving the life of a young boy. But nothing is as it seems and soon Frieda is embroiled in a race that will put her and others in danger from a predator who will do whatever is necessary to survive.

Review:
‘Blue Monday’ is a wonderful tour-de-force, a novel that makes the reader think as well as the authors dishing up a credible story that grips like a vice. French has decided it is time to step away from ‘standalones’ and to concentrate on a series - ‘Blue Monday’ being the opener. As expected with this author there are no guns blazing, no car chases, no in-depth description of eviscerated body parts... Thankfully, no.

What ‘Blue Monday’ delivers is a truly gorgeous, well handled, dark, Gothic psychological chiller that slowly and luxuriously unwinds with every page. Readers can feel the serpent of the story slowly uncoiling, waiting to spring and strike but not before the precise moment of attack.

As with all French’s novels, the supporting artists are just as important as the main protagonists and we find ourselves in the very good company of Reuben and Josef – two brilliantly eccentric characters who bring a mood of levity to the proceedings - as every tragedy needs its comedy to balance out the good and evil; the dark and the light.

The book is littered with references to Frieda’s estrangement to her family which are intriguing and which the author promises will be fully explored in the arc of these novels featuring Klein.

Nicci and Sean French seem to have firmly installed fifth gear to get the Klein story arc started on full throttle. ‘Blue Monday’ has a clear moral compass and no character is merely a plot device – everyone who is there ‘needs’ to be there and has their reason. It is this gut feeling for people that puts these writers amongst good company such as Patricia Highsmith, Lesley Grant-Adamson and Frances Fyfield who have carved amazing novels by showing the reader not only ordinary people, but also their souls. ‘Blue Monday’ is a study in people’s needs; their wants and desires. This is what makes this novel a truly chilling read.

The only thing that jars with me is having to wait a book a year before all is revealed with Frieda Klein!!!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating



Questionnaire

1) What makes a truly great crime/thriller novel?
Oh that’s such a hard question – in part because the genre is so elastic and there are so many kinds of crime and thriller novels. Of course, a cracking plot, where the end delivers on the promises of the beginning and the reader has to, just has to, keep going – sleepless nights, interrupted days…. And then the characters must be strong and believable – in our novels, we try and have a journey that the central characters go through, so that they have been changed by what they’ve lived through. Pace – so that the novel isn’t like a flat landscape but has valleys and hills and changes in scenery, and surprises round each corner. And finally, the greatest of crime and thriller novels have some kind of emotional spine – the heart doesn’t just beat harder out of suspense but also from a kind of intensity of feeling.
2) Are you surprised by the diversity of the crime genre? Do you think crime readers are always open to different styles?
Yes, that’s so true. Perhaps in the past the crime genre was ore rule-bound, but not any longer. We feel that there’s a basic contract with the reader (that a mystery will be solved) and after that, you can do whatever you want, as long as you do it well. And usually readers are wonderfully open to this kind of diversity and elasticity, where boundaries are being tested. It’s a genre where you both get what you expect and what you don’t expect at the same time. Of course, some people will want particular kinds of thrillers, and that’s what they’ll search out (and publishers have become adept at signalling by the jacket etc what will be inside). But in the main, it seems that some of the best and most inventive writing is going on within the crime and thriller genre and that’s one of the reasons why they are so popular with readers.
3) After so many years writing ‘standalone’ novels what has made you embark on a series?
We said for so long that we only wrote standalone thrillers, that perhaps we had to prove ourselves wrong. But in fact, the main reason we started this new adventure was because we had the idea for Frieda, a therapist who is like a detective of the mind, and when she came to us, we knew she needed more than one book. We wanted to see how she – and the cast of characters with whom she surrounds herself – changed over time: how the events they live through mark and change them. And also we were excited about having eight (eight seems an awful lot when we write it down) novels which are thrillers in their own right, but then connecting them all within over-arching mystery that is like a fuse, lit in Blue Monday, and burning its way through the remaining novels. (Also, in a more personal way, the youngest of our four children has just now left school and, in a way, home – and so we needed to have our own new adventure together, now that they’ve all gone.)
4) What first drew you to Frieda Klein and what was it about her that made you both decide to place her as your main protagonist?
We wanted to write a series but we didn’t want it to be centred on the police – and what we’ve always been interested in is the psychological elements of crime and of people’s lives. How strange it is to be human, how scary. So Frieda is a therapist. She is a woman who believes that you can’t solve the mess and brutality of the world, but you can manage your own internal chaos. She is a woman who has a sixth sense for other people’s secrets and their distress – but she is ferociously guarded about her own secrets and fears: we want her to be like a ticking bomb in the novels, someone who will eventually explode. She is not a woman who yields her secrets easily – she needs eight novels to do that.
5) Frieda is a psychotherapist. Why did you give her this particular role and did you have to do a lot of research in to psychology to make her believable?
She’s a psychotherapist because, as we said above, she is a detective but of the mind – she’s the hidden side of all investigations into crime. She’s interested in what happens in the head and the heart and the nerves, rather than out there in the world. It’s through her profession that she gets drawn into the world of crime, but it’s also because of her profession that she is so reluctant to be involved – and we like this continual tension. Also, she allows us to pursue all the things we’re interested in: the odd syndromes out there, the whole spectrum of human behaviour and psychology.
And yes, we had to do an enormous amount of research, both into various syndromes and also into the nuts and bolts of what it is to be a therapist. (We had two therapist-friends check Blue Monday before it was published, to make sure that it wasn’t wildly wrong in any area, though as they often say in the acknoweldgements, any mistakes are our own.)
6) There are many dropped hints about Frieda’s estrangement from her family. Is this a sub-plot that will develop over the other novels?
Yes! Bit by bit, the reader will learn what Frieda is hiding, what has made her so solitary and so private. This is one of the great pleasures of writing a series – there are threads that wind through the labyrinth. Of course, we want each book to exist in its own right – a reader can start on the third, say, Wednesday, and not be disappointed, but on the other hand if read in chronological order they should all have a kind of emotional and structural coherence.
7) ‘Blue Monday’ deals with the subject of child abduction. With the trial of Milly Dowling being played out in the papers why do you think that the abduction of children/teenagers is so abhorred in our society? And did you feel that you needed to deal with the issue sensitively?
It’s our great dread, isn’t it – a child who disappears. It’s like a fairy story in the way it tugs at our hearts. (Though one of the thing that interests and worries us is how some children – the blonde, white, pre-pubescent girl, for instance – make the whole country come together in collective horror, while others – an adolescent black boy say – has less power.) Because it’s so powerful and so often present in the media, it makes it crucial to deal with it sensitively, rather than just exploit it. We really hope this is what we’ve done in Blue Monday. We wanted to write about the horror of not knowing, the torment of waiting. There are thousands of young people who never return – they are like the ghosts in our midst.
8) You are planning an eight novel ‘arc’ for this series. Why so precise and do you think it is good to plan so far ahead with your books?
Well, we wanted to write – in real time, year by year – about a significant chunk of time in Frieda’s life, and the lives of her friends and enemies. We wanted to evoke time passing, London changing. Frieda is in her mid-late-thirties at the start and will be ten years older at the end – this is a crucial decade in a woman’s life. Her niece is a teenager in Blue Monday but will be a young woman by the end. So: three novels would be not enough and fifteen would be ridiculous. Eight (nearly a decade) seemed about right. And as for planning ahead – we don’t know the plots of all eight novels at all. That wouldn’t work – they have to be organic and we must be able to respond to Frieda and also to what’s happening in the world. But we do have a sense of the over-arching novel, that connects them all.
9) When writing as a couple is it difficult for you both to leave ‘work’ at the office or do you find yourselves discussing different aspects of the story during ‘down time’?
Not hard – impossible. But in a way, that’s lovely, because writing has been for us the way that we explore life together. Most of our ideas come when we’re least expecting them: on a walk, looking at a painting, having a discussion/argument…. (This means that we can say we’re working when we’re listening to music or watching a film of course).
10) What is your favourite crime/thriller novel of all time?
This answer has to be answered separately:
Nicci: The Woman in White and The Moonstone, both by Willkie Collins – for their Gothic, multi-narrated, atmospheric wildness.
Sean: There are so many I choose. Today, at this moment, I’ll choose ‘The Spy Who Came in from the Cold’ by John Le Carré. It superbly creates a whole world and it has the most brilliantly contorted plot. If only the British Secret Service had been as clever as Le Carré made them!