French, Nicci - 'Complicit'
Nicci French is one of those authors (actually, a composite author) who always delivers. Before knowing anything about her annual latest novel, one knows it will be a thriller, will feature a young or relatively young woman protagonist, will be set in the UK (usually London), domestic life will feature in some way – and that apparently normal events will go very, very wrong.
Such is the case in her latest novel, COMPLICIT. The first three-quarters of the book is told in see-saw fashion, alternating "before" and "after" passages to dissect in slices of time a chilling event in the lives of some rather bland characters over a long summer. The novel is told from the point of view of Bonnie, a music teacher who is persuaded against her will to set up and organise a band to play at a friend's wedding, while the friend is away on holiday. As the novel opens, Bonnie enters the friend's flat to find that someone is lying dead on the floor. We don't know who has been killed or who committed the murder, but we witness Bonnie's response to her discovery, which is to turn to one of the other band members who, unquestioningly, helps her dispose of the body.
Gradually, by virtue of the before/after format, we learn how Bonnie came to set up the band, and how she found people to play in it. Even more gradually, we learn who the victim is, and are given various clues as to what might have motivated the murder.
I have to admit that I found this part (most) of the novel rather irritating. Neither Bonnie nor any of the other characters are particularly likeable, so it is hard to sympathise with any of them. Nevertheless, the description of how Bonnie disposes of the body and hides the evidence is weirdly compelling, even though I found it hard to mind whether or not she was caught - partly because I didn't care enough about her to mind if she was sent to prison; and partly because I would have found out what was going on more quickly.
The book bursts into life in the last quarter. As the "before" and "after" passages converge, so the mystery gels. I did guess at who the murderer was, but have to admit I got it wrong. I am not quite sure how convincing the motive, when finally revealed, but I am convinced that in the layers that are gradually stripped away in the last quarter of the novel, the suspense is ratcheted up successfully as the various lines of plot converge in time.
Nicci French always delivers a solid, tense, quality read, and COMPLICIT is no exception. I found it more mechanical than some of her earlier novels, possibly because it is quite hard to sympathise with any of the band members or to understand why on earth such a motley crew would stick with their project under the various challenging interpersonal circumstances. But a Nicci French book is always so easy to absorb, and by the clever plotting and high tension in the last part of the book, which is where most crime fiction tends to relapse into predictability or worse, she lifts this novel from standard fare to something more original and biting.
Maxine Clarke, England