Author, Book review, crime/thriller, England, Fiction, Nicci French, Penguin, Publisher, Setting

‘Losing You’ by Nicci French


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

4 thoughts on “‘Losing You’ by Nicci French”

  1. I thought this book was excellent, too. In fact I was so drained and wrung out by the plot that I didn’t care who did it, just so long as the girl was found. It was a very good technical piece, too, being told both on an island (as we’ve been discussing elsehwere, a version of a “locked room” mystery) and being told over one day.
    Until Its Over is jolly good too, more in the usual Nicci French genre. I’ve reviewed it over at EuroCrime if you want to check that out (no spoilers, I promise!). It is very much a “London” novel, all kinds of nice little touches to be recognised by those who live and/or work there.


  2. Maxine, I agree, I didn’t care who did it, I just wanted Nina to find her daughter in one piece!!
    I’ll head over to Eurocrime and look for your review…


  3. No need to go into the ‘plot ‘ really as so many have done so before, suffice to say that it is dificult to imagine getting annoyed and bored with a woman character whose daughter has gone missing – but Losing You managed this for me.
    The term comicbook heroine has been used before by other reviewers and a very perceptive description it is too. Nina is – reasonably- interesting at first, but you’ve got to wonder about a character/person who lets their teenage daughter sleep out overnight, unpacked, the night before an overseas trip, especially a daughter scatty enough to arrange a surprise birthday party for 11 am ( 11am !) that day , when departure from the house is to be by 1pm. They have a dog too, a Labrador who Nina calls Sludge . I worry about a person who calls animals or children by deliberately ugly names, but be that as it may. The question is really, why does the dog have to be introduced into the story at all, she serves no purpose, and the same can be said for the strange cousin(?) Renata, who arrives ostensibly to take care of said dog and then takes to her bed , or rather Nina’s bed, apparently deeply depressed . And then leaves, saying she is “only in your way” ……….. I can see why the completely stupid party had to be used to further the plot . But Renata? Sludge?
    I can only think that the party, the dog, the cousin and other sundry annoyances are somehow intended to show how our redoubtable heroine can overcome anything in a single bound.
    Heaven knows, she does have to overcome stuff. Nobody much likes her it seems, maybe that’s why they all came to the party as she was packing for the plane, just to piss her off. Nope, that doesn’t figure , mostly they don’t even know her, it’s only the people who do know her who don’t much like her. No idea why all those people – and it is described as dozens -would turn up to such an event. Imagine, a teenager who you barely know invites you to a 11am party for her mother, a woman you don’t know at all . “It’ll be a surprise for her 40th birthday and we are going to Florida later in the day” says the teenager . “Oh lovely ” you say, “We’ ll be there, and what is your name again dear? “……
    But onward…. once she believes Charlie to be really missing and panic starts to build, she then has to contend with Everybody Else in The World, all of whom are too stupid ,too slow, too disbelieving or too deliberately obstructuctive to help her . Fortunately Nina is so unimaginably intuitive and clever and unstoppable that she manages the whole thing herself, all the detective work, all the interviews, all the fieldwork, all the denoument, the rescue, the natural justice, everything.
    Oh and I forgot , and the the hospital staff are also completely inept and also need Nina-ising, right to the last moment.
    The Bad Guy? I hardly remember who it was,so little was created around his character and motive.


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