This is book three in the detective/psychological thriller series featuring psychotherapist Dr. Frieda Klein, who is the occasional collaborator of London Detective Chief Inspector Malcolm Karlsson. There is no romantic involvement between the two, although not for want of enthusiasm among readers for the match-up.
The inexplicable and brutal murder of a seemingly normal happy woman with three children that begins the story cries out for the services of a criminal psychologist, but Karlsson now has to work without the valuable services of Frieda, who has been replaced by the pompous, incompetent, albeit well-connected Dr. Hal Bradshaw. By a series of coincidences, Frieda gets in a position to help anyway, in spite of the demands of her family, her would-be lover Sandy, a serial killer we met in the first book who is still stalking her, and the unexpected quest for a series of missing young women with which she gets involved.
Discussion: Who Frieda is and what she wants continues to elude us. Frieda resists uncovering herself even to her close friends and to her boyfriend Sandy, a surgeon in America with infinite patience. Sandy does understand that remaining invisible is, for some reason, the most important thing to Frieda; that being “exposed” upsets her even more than threats of professional or bodily harm. Frieda knows that she is a mess:
“She had good friends, but she hadn’t turned to them, not even to Sandy. She could listen, but she couldn’t talk give help but not ask for it.”
Ironically, Frieda realizes that the man who seems to know her the best is the killer who is pursuing her.
Karlsson has his own problems. His demanding career resulted in the estrangement from, and ultimately loss of, his wife and two children, and now he is paying the emotional price. He misses them dearly, especially little Bella and Mikey, who are about to move with his ex-wife and her new husband to faraway Spain.
He also has to put up with the frustrating and enervating demands of his Commissioner, who keeps reminding him that the job is not about “solving crimes” but rather:
“A police force is about political influence, and it always has been. If I can’t get up the home secretary’s arse and get you the funding that you’re pissing away, you won’t be in a position to solve your crimes, any of you.”
(…a quote that could have come with only a slight change right from “Law and Order.”)
Evaluation: I think this series is getting better, or maybe I have reconciled myself to the fact that Frieda wants to remain a cipher, and the authors (Nicci French is the pseudonym for the writing team of husband and wife Nicci Gerrard and Sean French) have decided to accede to her wishes. There is plenty of suspense balanced with character development, and the pacing is good. Not all the background from previous books is fully explained, but I don’t think it impedes the overall flow of the story for first-time readers of the series.
Published by Pamela Dorman Books/Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA), 2014