Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Nicci French's Klein gamble pays dividends

At a literary lunch a couple of years ago, Sean French (the male component of Nicci French; his wife Nicci Gerrard is the other half) read out one of their reviews, a positive one. But this was no act of boastfulness: French drew attention to a line praising the duo's standalone thrillers, and thanking God that Nicci French did not write about a series character. Needless to say, that was precisely what the duo were just about to do. They appeared aware of all the possible pitfalls. French admirers gritted their teeth and hoped for the best from the new recurring heroine, psychologist Frieda Klein.

Blue Monday was her first outing, and despite all the customary French expertise, Klein herself seemed cut from familiar cloth: a dedicated professional with a host of personal issues. There were mutterings that French was losing the elements (notably the narrative exuberance) that made the earlier books so impressive. Now we have the second Klein title, Tuesday's Gone. Does it prove the naysayers wrong?

A social worker, Maggie, calls on the disturbed Michelle Doyce, a "care in the community" patient. Maggie is struck by the smell and the squalor but not prepared for the man sitting in a back room. The blue marbled appearance is that of a corpse. Frieda is dragooned into the case by her colleague DCI Karlsson, and the dead man is identified as confidence trickster Robert Poole. Klein and Karlsson soon encounter an army of the dead man's unlucky "marks" - and Frieda discovers that whoever is responsible for his death has her in their sights.

From the rivetingly described opening chapter through the adroitly orchestrated plot, this is vintage French, brimming with all the dark insight that distinguished the earlier books. It appears the duo have channelled the elements that made them so winning: a sharply observed picture of modern British society, and a sense of personal danger for the protagonists which never relaxes its grip. What's more, we are granted startling revelations about Klein's character. Reservations about French's shift from standalone to series now seem like ancient history.

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