Fiction – paperback; Penguin Books; 293 pages; 2007.
I’m a long-time Nicci French fan, but it’s been more than two years since I picked up anything written by this husband-and-wife team. Once-upon-a-time I would anxiously await each new release, sometimes even buying them in hardcover when expenses would allow, because I enjoyed reading these psychological thrillers so much.
But I found the last French book, Catch Me When I Fall, slightly disappointing. It felt like the girl-on-the-run-from-a-stranger franchise had become tired and too formulaic, or perhaps I’d simply cottoned on to the fact that Nicci French is a one-trick pony and I wanted a little more from the reading experience. Needless to say, I didn’t rush out and buy the next one: I bided my time and acquired it via BookMooch a month or so ago.
Losing You, I am happy to report, is a welcome breaking of the mould. This time it’s not a young woman being stalked that forms the backbone of the narrative, but a mother searching for her missing child. It’s a refreshing change.
The novel — the 10th one in the French catalogue — is set on Sandling Island, 60 miles from London, “but, rimmed as it was by the tidal estuary and facing out to open sea, it had the feel of a different world, gripped by weather and seasons; full of wild spaces, loneliness, the strange call of sea-birds and sighing winds”. It’s the ideal claustrophobic and slightly creepy setting for the story that enfolds over the course of the next 290 pages.
Nina Landry, recently separated from her husband, is about to embark on a Christmas break to Florida with her new beau and her two children, 15-year-old Charlie (Charlotte) and 11-year-old Jackson. The day ahead looms large, with a million tasks to do before the family heads to Heathrow for their 6pm flight, but things go off kilter before it even gets started.
First, Nina’s car breaks down, then her house is swamped by people throwing a surprise 40th birthday party for her — and all this before 11am. It’s only when Nina notices Charlie’s absence that the suspense gets ratcheted up a notch or two.
When she calls the police, they assume it’s simply a case of a teenager running away because she’s unhappy at home. But Nina knows this isn’t true.
Embarking on her own investigation, she slowly pieces together Charlie’s last movements and, in doing so, learns that the relationship she has with her daughter is not as open or as trusting as she first thought. Nina slowly begins to uncover secrets within secrets, all of which lead her to believe that Charlie will turn up dead if she doesn’t find her quickly…
This is typical French fare in the sense that the suspense doesn’t really let up from the word go, helped in part by absolutely no chapter breaks. The prose style hurries along at an ever-quickening pace without losing the rich detail and vivid descriptions that bring the narrative to life — you get a real sense of the people, the places and the events that occur in ways that a less-busy, tell-don’t-show style would fail to deliver.
There are plenty of twists and turns in the plot, and many characters are not what they first appear to be, and all the while the story never really escalates into all-out melodrama. Indeed, it reads as quite an authentic account of a panicked mother trying to find her missing child when the rest of the world doesn’t seem to take her concerns seriously enough.
Losing You is a thoroughly entertaining read, one to quicken the pulse and test your powers of deduction all the way through. I can honestly say I did not guess the ending nor the perpetrator, which is quite rare in much of my recent reading experience.
Now, that French seems to have worked her way into my good books once again, I wonder where I can get my hands on a copy of her latest novel Until It’s Over…