Category Archives: psychological thriller

Reading: Sunday Silence by Nicci French

22nd January 2018

In the seventh, penultimate, book in this series, husband-wife writing team Nicci French begin Frieda Klein’s story where it left off in the heart-racing cliffhanger of Dark Saturday.

After defying the law to clear her name in the last installment, London psychologist Frieda is horrified to discover a body beneath the floor of her sanctuary, her home. After several years of trying to convince the police and the commissioner that a serial killer is still alive and toying with her, Frieda feels no satisfaction in their newfound agreement, especially as more bodies are discovered. Yet something feels different about the incidents that follow that threaten her inner circle, and Frieda realizes that Dean isn’t the only danger.

While full of the cast of characters – the ragtag friends and family of Frieda – readers of this series love, Sunday Silence falls short in delivering the taut, suspenseful narrative of the other books. The identity of the second killer is made clear early on, and the push to outwit him isn’t anything new.

Since the series began with Blue Monday, I was anticipating closure to the main story line in this book, and it didn’t come. Instead, the majority of the book focused on a much less interesting, less terrifying, less well developed character than I’ve come to expect. With the number of mysteries I read, I need more than a slightly odd, middle aged guy with a power complex to be the bad guy. Who is he? How did he arrive at the moment he commits a crime?

That said, the opening of this book offers a glimpse of the final showdown to the series, Day of the Dead, out July 2018, and I’m here for it.

But don’t take my word for it. Check out Goodreads to see what others thought of Sunday Silence.

P.S. While you can read these as standalone books, reading them in order is a much fuller experience.

Review: The House on the Cliff by Charlotte Williams

6th February 2014

pg1*I received this book from the publisher Bourbon Street Books in exchange for an honest review.

Jessica Mayhew’s psychotherapy office is a sanctuary of sorts. She goes in, listens to her patients, and goes home. Her life is routine, and she likes it that way. But her routine is disturbed when her husband admits to sleeping with a younger woman in what he says was a one-night stand. Her teenage daughter Nella has pulled away from her. And at work, a new client, Gwydion Morgan, an actor and the son of famous film director Evan Morgan, unsettles Jessica.

Gwydion has a phobia of buttons and is concerned it may affect his work in a period film. However, as their sessions continue, a recurring dream Gwydion has dominates their sessions. In the dream, he is a child on his father’s boat. He hears a disturbance and then a splash before he wakes up, unnerved. When Jessica makes a house call after Gwydion’s mother calls her, concerned he may be suicidal, she learns Gwydion’s au pair drowned at their cliff side home, and she begins to wonder if Gwydion’s dream is reality. What really happened to the au pair?

The House on the Cliff – beginning with its cover – looked like an absolutely perfect read for the dreary January weather we’ve been having. Set in Wales, the tone and the subject matter are eery and dark. However, the longer I read, the more I had to shake my head. I thoroughly enjoy mysteries whose detecting character isn’t necessarily a detective. That said, the main character should also exhibit a sense of investigation that makes his or her foray into detecting plausible. Instead, Jessica is a bit of a mess. She is certainly curious, but she never seems to pair her curiosity with rational, measured thought. Unable to forgive her husband for the affair, she quickly entangles herself with her patient (!), delves into his family history without authorization, manages to alienate and place her daughter in danger, and make an altogether ridiculously foolish move at the end of the book. Though I enjoyed the writing, The House on the Cliff left me wondering if Jessica Mayhew is capable of leading a mystery series.

If you’re so inclined, add this to your Goodreads shelf.

Review: The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood

15th August 2013

pg1*This book was sent to me by the publisher The Viking Press in exchange for an honest review.

The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood is a difficult book to pin down. A thriller of sorts, the novel examines the lives of two child killers, grown but still dealing with the ramifications of one summer afternoon. Yet again, it’s a look at a seedy beachside town and the people who populate it, dependent on tourists for a living wage and struggling to carve out a life.

The story parallels the lives of Kirsty Lindsay, a freelance newspaper reporter, and Amber Gordon, a newly promoted cleaning supervisor for the Funnland amusement park in Whitmouth with the children they were, Jade Walker and Annabel Oldacre, convicted child killers. Bound by their secret but barred from ever seeing one another ever again, Kirsty and Amber are thrown together by circumstance when a string of murders brings Kirsty to Whitmouth to follow the story.

What follows is an acutely uncomfortable narrowing of situation as Kirsty and Amber come closer and closer to the revelation the reader knows they’re bound for – the exposure of their true identities and the scrutiny and repulsion that are sure to follow. While this may sound predictable, the resolution is anything but, yet the flashbacks to what happened with Bel and Jade that day years before weren’t exceptionally shocking, so I’m not altogether sure why they were parsed out between chapters for the duration of the book.

In terms of narrative voice, Marwood changed perspectives sometimes within paragraphs, making the telling difficult to follow, and particularly odd was the absence of examination of Jade and Bel’s seemingly abusive childhoods, different though they are. The lack of examination of upbringing and the nature of the crime itself felt shortsighted and obvious instead of nuanced and implied.

Though the book was a fast read and unsettling (which here isn’t a bad thing), it wasn’t the book I wanted to read. Instead, it seemed to skirt the issues I think would have made it a much more profound and introspective thriller.

Add this book to your Goodreads shelf.

Review: The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell

3rd July 2013

pg1*I received this book from the publisher, Riverhead Books, in exchange for an honest review.

In the opening pages of The Other Typist, beginning with the first line, “They said the typewriter would unsex us,” Suzanne Rindell immediately displays her writing chops, linking the typewriter, the women who use them, and the distance between the woman and the men for whom she types in a fitting criticism of the workplace in the 1920s.

Rose Baker is a typist for the police department, transcribing the confessions of those who walk through the precinct. She marvels at being thought too weak to handle the graphic talk, aptly pointing out that as a typist, she must hear the confession twice – once as it is dictated and again, as she types it.  Rose presents herself as clever, punctilious, and slightly prudish, a fact excused by her past – an orphan, she was raised by nuns.

But the other typist – Odalie – switches everything up. As Rose says, when Odalie enters the precinct, “I knew: It was like the eye of a hurricane. She was the dark epicenter of something we didn’t quite understand yet, the place where hot and cold mixed dangerously, and around her everything would change.”

Drawn in immediately by the confessional nature of Rose’s tale, the reader has no choice but to wonder at the tone Rose takes when she talks about the vivacious Odalie. At first wary of Odalie, Rose soon becomes enamored of someone so different from herself, calculatingly vying for her friendship. When Odalie does turn her light on Rose, it’s fast and bright, and Rose can’t turn away, bound by the dangerous mix of glamour and daring that Odalie exudes.

Along the way there are signs of distress, but Rose is in too deep, and the rumors of an inappropriate relationship with a nun hint at the possibility that Rose feels romantically toward Odalie, adding to her dependency. At the same time, The Other Typist briefly comments on the changing social sphere as well, as Rose says,

In a flash it came to me, and I suddenly understood something about my own generation….Their youth was what kept them moving, a sort of brutal vitality lingering in their muscles and bones that was all too often mistaken for athleticism and grace. But their innocence was something they were obligated to go on faking in order to maintain the illusion something fresh and spontaneous and exciting was just around the next corner.

But for Rose, the reality is that something spontaneous and exciting is around the corner; it just may not be what she thinks.

The Other Typist, though not as tight as perhaps the deft fiction of Sarah Waters, is an enthralling read I’d  compare to Affinity. It’s well worth the read as well as the edginess most readers will feel as Rindell unwinds this novel of love, obsession, and corruption.

Add this to your Goodreads shelf.

Review: Tuesday’s Gone by Nicci French

8th April 2013

pg1*This book was sent to me by the publisher Pamela Dorman Books in exchange for an honest review.

After the traumatic events in Blue Monday, Frieda Klein is nearly back to normal until she’s called on the carpet for delving into a client’s mind in order to help the police. Frieda herself questions her motives but ultimately knows she did what she had to in order to locate a kidnapped child, even if the results were less than ideal. The case still haunts her, particularly as she’s not sure it’s quite over…

Meanwhile, DCI Karlsson is in a bit of a quandary. A social worker visits a mentally ill patient only to discover a decomposing corpse covered in flies whom the patient has faithfully served tea. Unable to get a sense of what happened from the withdrawn woman, Karlsson calls again on Frieda, but she hesitates, unsure if police involvement is something she should be doing or even wants to do.

Ultimately, though, she cannot resist the draw of this patient who so obviously needs help. Plus, the victim is unidentified, and Frieda hunts down a clue the police have missed, leading to identification. But even with a name, this victim, Robert Poole, seems unknowable. Intelligent and perceptive, Poole was a con man, changing himself to suit the situation. The problem is, most of his con victims have no idea they’re being conned, or they’ve enjoyed his company so much they don’t seem to mind.

The more Karlsson and Frieda discover, the more they question who didn’t have a motive for killing Poole, and Frieda wonders at the similarities between herself and the victim, a man whom everyone seemed to be able to talk to easily.

Along with the suspense in Tuesday’s Gone, I really like the choice to very slowly reveal Frieda to the reader. In a way, the series seems to be less about the threads left over from the previous case and more about the exploration of Frieda’s own psyche. I like her; she’s introspective and cautious, but she also cannot resist helping once she’s begun, caring far too much about the people who could ultimately harm her. A good description of her, discussing a breakup over a year ago:

She suspected that Harry would think fourteen months was a long time; most people would. How do you measure absence? There had been minutes that had become hours, days dull and deadened as lead, and whole weeks when she’d had to force herself forward, inch by inch, across their expanse. How do you know when your heart is ready once more? Perhaps, for someone like her, the heart was never ready and had to be forced open.

Still enigmatic and quiet, Frieda nonetheless seems much more vulnerable in Tuesday’s Gone, and the tension left over from the outcome of Blue Monday follows her everywhere, making for an increasingly taut read.

Add this to your Goodreads shelf.