I’ve just realised after a quick trawl through some posts, that I never wrote that promised review which I began a few weeks ago, of the latest and possibly last Nicci French book:
You might call the series Frieda Stark’s Week: much darker and more thrilling than Ed Reardon’s Week http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09dy2sb (the highlight of which is something like being caught letting his tyres down to get into a car park) the series begins with Blue Monday and carries on till Sunday Morning Coming Down. It’s highly dystopian; and as with the recent Val McDermid review I shall hold off on the spoilers a) because it’s new and b) because the ending left me utterly gobsmacked. I was desolate. I wanted to phone the authors immediately and cry, ‘How could you? How dare you leave things this way?’ My heart was broken and my head crashed: as Val McDermid says it was both shattering and inevitable.
But although I won’t divulge the ending, I am free to discuss the beginning and middle. Like all the Frieda Stark books, SMCD takes place in London; not tourist London but a seamy, hidden city; a city of oil-slicked puddles on abandoned estates; a city of filthy high-rise blocks and rubbish-strewn alleyways: above all, a city of rivers. Rivers are Stark’s fascination and each book features a hidden river that has been blocked up and built on. Of course the Thames is always present but other forms of transport, ie buses and the tube, hardly figure because Frieda likes to walk everywhere. She can walk for hours in the most unprepossessing areas, just for the fun of it – although fun is not quite the right world; serious and dark, Frieda lives up to her surname as she sees life through a stark lens.
Somewhere in this dark world of crime lurks her nemesis Dean Reeve, believed by police to be dead but known by Frieda and her friends to be alive. Her friends are, as she says herself, her real family, her blood relatives being cold and unloving. The bright spots in the novel are the gatherings of this surrogate family of friends, colleagues, a sister and niece abandoned by Frieda’s brother, and a jobbing builder who came one day to fix Frieda’s bath and never left. Add to these Karlsson, a detective whose career has been seriously threatened due to his friendship with Frieda, and you have the whole bunch. But while they are all fiercely on Frieda’s side in her battle to convince the police that Reeve is still alive and out there, Reeve is threatening them all one by one.
This is high quality crime fiction. There’s not a stereotype in sight; the world is created every bit as lucidly as Rankin’s Edinburgh and the characters drawn with a mature, clear-eyed vision. But oh, my god, the ending! They can’t do that – they just can’t!!
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