The husband-and-wife team that is Nicci French wrote 12 standalone psychological thrillers before switching to a series with last year’s Blue Monday. Their central character, Frieda Klein, a psychotherapist who moonlights as a quasi-detective, returns in Tuesday’s Gone, together with a number of other characters, including the melancholy DCI Malcolm Karlsson and his team.
The book begins promisingly with a Deptford social worker visiting a middle-aged woman with dementia, only to find that her client is serving tea and iced buns to a naked man sitting on her sofa. To make matters more piquant, the man is a rotting, fly-ridden corpse with a missing finger. As always, French excels at such opening situations, bringing to them a touch of the macabre and the shock of the unexpected.
Frieda has unfinished business carried over from Blue Monday. She’s the subject of a professional inquiry because of a complaint from one of those involved in the previous case. (It’s not necessary to have read the first book, but it really does
help if you have.) Nevertheless, the police unofficially recruit her to assist in the investigation. They themselves are under internal pressure because the investigation is being shadowed by a cost-cutting management consultant.
The corpse on the sofa is identified as a con man with a genius for empathising with his victims; he is, in effect, a dark
doppelgänger for Frieda herself, equally adept at feeling his way into the minds of other people. The con man’s victims generate a variety of subplots. Meanwhile the investigators diverge, with the police going one way and Frieda increasingly going another. Her private life is emotionally fraught and the boundaries blur between her work and her personal problems. The two come together near the end of the book, a little predictably, when Frieda herself is plunged into peril.
This is a novel to read for its almost gothic atmosphere, its compassion, its sense of London and its characters. What lingers in the mind are the details: the iced buns for the corpse, for example, and Frieda describing to her lover as a form of therapy a walk across London that follows the lost Tyburn river from Haverstock Hill to the Thames.
That said, the book as a whole lacks the tight plotting and the concentrated dramatic force of French’s best novels. (Losing You, a stand-alone thriller, is a superb example of just how good these can be.) There are simply too many semi-detached criminals for comfort. Frieda’s relationship with the police is not entirely convincing in the setting of a modern crime novel. Blue Monday casts too long a shadow over both the storyline and the recurring characters, which is often a problem for series crime novels that try to be more than merely formulaic.
Though Tuesday’s Gone is not entirely successful in its own terms, it’s not a failure, either. This is a series that is going somewhere interesting. Roll on Wednesday.