Sunday Morning Coming Down

Written by Nicci French

Review written by Gwen Moffat

Gwen Moffat lives in Cumbria. Her novels are set in remote communities ranging from the Hebrides to the American West. The crimes fit their environment, swelling that dreadful record of sin in the smiling countryside cited by Sherlock Holmes.

Sunday Morning Coming Down
Michael Joseph
RRP: £16.99
Released: July 13, 2017

This is the seventh in the series. Three years ago I read and reviewed the fourth, Thursday’s Children, and wrote that it was “a beacon in the current crop”.  If the other five are as intriguing as Sunday Morning then this series is a tour de force.

With the passage of time I had forgotten the lure of the French team and, coming apparently fresh to their latest novel, with the first pages I was beguiled by the style. The authors are wordsmiths. Things happen in apparently careless prose but lean and specific; they are discussed acutely just as people talk. That is, with the hesitation and repetition excluded. Violence is immediate, depicted with the all the emotion of a surgeon handling a scalpel.

Although there are references to the previous novels in the series they are not vital to the appreciation of this one which can stand alone. The initial crime scene is a bijou house in a London mews owned by the protagonist and series character, Frieda Klein, a psychotherapist, and the first event is the discovery of a putrid body under the floorboards in her living room.

Among all the people in the novel, and there are many: her friends, the police, journalists, victims and villains, Frieda comes across as the least idiosyncratic. She is a sounding board, a mirror reflecting the others. She is the ideal therapist:  percipient, ruthless, disciplined, humane. Her first love is her tortoiseshell cat, her second, and unacknowledged, could be one DCI Karlsson. Outside the cat, Karlsson, and her precious house is a wide circle of friends and family.

There is a plot, which the newcomer assumes  involves a running theme through the series;   it concerns a murderer, Dean Reeves, who was supposed to have died but who Frieda  maintains is alive, and it was her attempts to trace him that resulted in the body under her floorboards. This latter crime  introduces DCI  Petra Burge, abrasive  and hostile initially, flummoxed by Frieda’s  professional serenity and her insistence that since the body in her house was that of a PI she’d hired to trace Reeves, it was Reeves himself who put it there as a message to her to back off.

Petra’s doubts concerning Frieda’s reliability are quickly dissipated by ensuing violent acts aimed at her friends and family, even contacts. Reuben, a Bohemian therapist and her one-time mentor, is viciously attacked; her niece is drugged and abducted. The informant who had worked for the murdered PI is found in a fridge freezer. A constable who for a short time protected her disappears. Either Frieda is jinxed, Reeves is carrying stalking to ultimate lengths - herself scheduled to be the last victim – or there is a copycat at large.

The characters are multi-ethnic and great fun, running the gamut from delightful to appalling, amusing to revolting. Reuben’s friend is Josef, a builder from the Ukraine who goes back to his unhappy country to rescue his traumatized son: Josef who adores Frieda and would settle all tangible threats with his fists. There’s Jack who decided not to be a therapist, settles on running a cheese stall instead and gives away much of his produce. And the family: Olivia the neurotic sister-in-law, her cool daughter Chloë who was abducted. All these, not forgetting the police: from seniors to constables, are finely portrayed. The media figure naturally, notably one enamelled chit with piercing questions, and conversely: a man who has made himself a specialist on Dean Reeves and as such is by way of being Frieda’s confidant.

People matter more than plot in the French novels but background is there, lightly and evocatively sketched: homely interiors, soulless interiors, an obviously much-loved London. The authors carry the reader effortlessly, leading him back: to the others in the series. I am now on Saturday Requiem, with Blue Monday on the side. Enough said.

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