Author: Nicci French
Michael Joseph RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
Nicci French is the pseudonym for the writing partnership of journalists Nicci Gerrard and Sean French, a married couple whose books have sold more than 8 million books worldwide. My introduction to Nicci French was with Waiting for Wednesday (reviewed here), which I found to be an enjoyable psychological thriller with an interesting protagonist in psychotherapist Dr Frieda Klein. I haven’t had the chance to read the earlier books in the series (which started with Blue Monday), but I do hope to remedy that … one day. In Thursday’s Children, Frieda has to confront her own long-buried past after painful memories are triggered by a new crime, giving fans of the series a deeper look at a character who has made a point of holding herself back.
When former classmate Maddie turns up in London unexpectedly and asks Frieda to help her troubled 16-year-old daughter, Frieda is reluctant. After all, she hasn’t heard from Maddie – or anyone from her childhood town – since she left 23-years earlier, and Frieda wants the past to stay where it belongs. However, when she talks to Becky and discovers the teenager was raped in circumstances that sound horribly familiar, Frieda is compelled to help the girl, even if it means confronting her own past … a past that also includes rape. Frieda and Becky also have something else in common – their own mothers failed to believe them. At Frieda’s urging, Becky decides to go to the police, but before she can do so, she is found hanged in her room. The police think it’s suicide – a cut and dried case; Frieda is not so sure.
‘But look at the situation. The girl won’t go to the police because she thinks that they, like her own mother, won’t believe her, and my experience tells me she may be right.’ (Thursday’s Children by Nicci French, p67)
Frieda returns home and tries to piece together the truth. She knows the same person is behind the rapes and Becky’s death. Her search leads her to renew contact with her ailing but still distant mother, as well as classmates who she thinks hold the key to what happened to her years earlier. The investigation is clouded by conflicting accounts, hidden agendas and questionable alibis, and Frieda must put her own pain aside and sift through new and old information before another innocent person dies. She might have run away once, but she’s not going anywhere now.
Thursday’s Children oozes with tension, from the circumstances around the criminal cases to the relationships between the various characters. Frieda’s not exactly welcomed back to Suffolk with open arms; she’s viewed with suspicion by her former classmates, and her mother is only mildly curious to see her estranged daughter. There’s also tension between Frieda and her love interest, Sandy, who’s moves back from the US to be with Frieda after she admits she was once raped. Did I mention that the police aren’t too happy with Frieda telling them they’ve got it wrong? French does a terrific job building suspense and encouraging the reader to suspect everyone but the villain. I admit that I was caught off-guard this time.
As much as this is a crime thriller, Thursday’s Children is also a sad indictment of a society that tends to blame the victim and of predators that seek out the troubled and vulnerable. What’s tragic is that this is not new, and despite ongoing and commendable efforts by some parts of the community, it’s not going away. Interestingly, French contrasted two opposites to make the point – the lack of support given to Becky and Frieda by their respective mothers versus the generous and heartfelt support Frieda received from her adult friends. There’s plenty of fodder for discussion in that.
Overall, a recommended read for those who follow the series and enjoy a good psychological thriller. My only complaint was that it fell a bit flat at the end – I think it could have ended earlier and left the reader with some residual tension and a desperate desire to read the next book as soon as possible.
Available from good bookstores and Penguin Books Australia. My copy was courtesy of Penguin.
Bookish treat: I bit into a crunchy apple fresh from the garden. I think Frieda’s old classmate Eva and I would have plenty in common.