French, Nicci - 'Blue Monday'
Nicci French novels are predictably good, exciting reads. Here, after many years of "standalones", the authors (Nicci Gerrard and Sean French) break their own mould and start a series. BLUE MONDAY is, naturally, a page-turner, very hard to stop reading it once started. The plot is a crime-fiction staple - a young child goes missing on his way home from school. One variant is that the crime is very similar to an unsolved case of 22 years ago; another is that psychoanalyst Frieda Klein (a typical Nicci French protagonist) is told some disturbing information by one of her patients, that might be relevant to the crime. This raises not only the question of client confidentiality, but is taken further by the authors to illustrate the ethical dilemmas of how far to involve the patient in a real-life problem; and to ask to what extent "psychotherapy" (the talking cure) can help someone or to what extent the route to recovery is in the practical uncovering of real childhood traumas.
Although this novel is enjoyable (apart from the sections from a victim's point of view), it is somewhat scattered: the main characters of Chief Inspector Karlsson and Frieda are well-portrayed and definitely people we want to return to in future novels, especially in view of the unresolved attraction between them. However, Frieda's family problems, her obsessive night-time walks around London, issues with her colleagues, a strange friendship with a Ukrainian builder, and so on are no doubt included in order to be fleshed out in future novels, but here they slightly fail to gel because there are too many of them. There is a subplot about Frieda's (divorced) sister-in-law Olivia and her teenage daughter Chloe that in particular seems to be bolted-on, perhaps to attempt to broaden the authors' appeal to a younger readership. There is also a bit too much of a "feel good" element in how Frieda's contacts (the builder, her student, Chloe and Olivia, her now-alcoholic supervisor, etc) all pull together to form a family substitute to celebrate Christmas.
Despite these elements that aren't part of the main crime plot, at its heart the novel is a good mystery whose hoped-for solution is addressed with determination and tenacity by Frieda as well as Karlsson, from their different professional perspectives (with the help of at least one glaring coincidence involving an accidental meeting in the street). The eventual fusing of these approaches, via some neuroscience research, is quite fascinating. Fans of Nicci French will enjoy this book and despite the obvious twists in the tail (the final one leaving a nasty aftertaste) the main plot is a satisfying one.
One slight quibble: I understand that subsequent novels in this series will have the remaining days of the week in their titles, but nothing was made of the "Monday" in the title of this one. I am tempted to think that the title choice has more to do with commercial branding than with anything else.
Maxine Clarke, England