Dark Saturday
Nicci French
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Buy *Dark Saturday* by Nicci Frenchonline

Dark Saturday
Nicci French
William Morrow Paperbacks
Paperback
400 pages
July 2017
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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So exciting to have French’s charismatic main character back so quickly after the last story, in which London psychologist Frieda Klein was forced to go underground, accused of a crime she didn’t commit. In Dark Saturday, Frieda's nemesis Dean Reeve is still obsessed with her. This is a man who was responsible for murder and child-abduction and was able to carry out his violent agenda while the world believed him to be dead. Though he’s been absent from Frieda’s life, for many months at a time over the course of French’s series, Dean has morphed into a grotesque distortion of Frieda’s protector. Reeve is still out there somewhere, and Frieda is haunted by the fact that he’s watching her and will never go away.

For the moment, at least, Frieda is distracted by another killer: Hannah Docherty. Guilty of murdering her entire family, Hannah is currently incarcerated in Chelsworth, a high-security hospital on the outskirts of London. Frieda has tried to put out of her mind everything she knew, had known, or even overheard as well as the photos she saw of Hannah’s family: stepfather Aiden Locke, mother, Deborah Docherty, and younger brother, Rory. At the time, Hannah’s case--clear-cut and irrefutable--centered on the dysfunctional reports of drug-taking and friends with anti-social behavior. Frieda doesn’t think there’s anyone who doesn’t know that Hannah must have been the most reviled person in the country.

London is dark and rain-swept, the gray days permeating Frieda’s psyche. She’s asked by old colleague, Walter Levin to explore whether Hannah was in fact wrongly convicted. Starting with the basic principle of a presumption of innocence, Levin wants to look into senior police officer DCI Ben Sledge, the first copper on the scene, whom he suspects screwed up the initial investigation. Time is of the essence. Hannah is in trouble at Chelsworth: locked up in solitary and alone, and heavily reliant on drugs. She’s being beaten by the other inmates and drugged by the nurses.

The action in Dark Saturday collapses like a delicate house of cards. With DCI Malcom Karlsson hospitalized with a broken leg, Frieda takes it upon herself to visit Hannah. She’s initially shocked at Hannah’s deteriorating state and stunned at Hannah’s size, as well as the swirl of amazing tattoos all over her, a series of blurred ink drawings spread out all over her, designs that at first seem homemade amateurish. As a therapist, Frieda has a clear sense of what secrets need keeping, but she can’t for the life of her figure out what Hannah means when she mumbles "It’s me, it’s me.” Looking at her clammy, swollen face and drug-fueled state, Frieda wonders if Hannah’s dreams are nightmares or moments of freedom.

Positive that Hannah is innocent of her crime, Frieda attacks her case with gusto, utilizing her considerable investigative skills to burrow into the original file of police interviews, witness statements and photographs. She even ropes in her Ukrainian plumber, Josef, visiting the Docherty home in Dulwich in order to reconstruct the crime. She goes on the offensive, cross-examining Deborah’s first husband, Seamus Docherty, who inherited the family home and arrived on the morning of the murder to take away several bags of possessions. According to Ben Sedge, the case stood up, despite pieces of the puzzle missing or not quite fitting. There wasn’t “even a sniff of another suspect.”

French links together the story’s disparate plot points with the complexities of Frieda’s investigative work and Dean Reeve's ever-present spirit. Because Hannah’s crime is essentially a closed case, Frieda must call upon all her skills as a therapist. Numerous supporting characters weave in and out of the narrative, from Frieda’s patients, work colleagues and police officers to her niece Chloe, dubious that Frieda even has a case, and Professor Andrew Berryman, who helps Frieda interview Hannah in solitary confinement. Frieda races across London into the trajectory of Hannah’s old partners in crime: Tom Morell, Jason Brenner, and hysterically defensive Shelly Walsh, who tells Frieda they all took drugs and stole, living squalidly. French keeps the excitement at full-throttle as Frieda walks the streets thinking about Hannah, bruised and bowed after years living in hell; Rory, lying in his pajamas with his “caved-in skull; and clumsy, naďve Erin Black, a kooky conspiracy theorist who has followed Hannah’s case for years and is convinced Hannah was incarcerated for a crime she didn’t commit: “I don’t believe she was psychologically ill at the time, just angry and troubled, then traumatized by grief and suspicion, the insanity came later.”

Dark Saturday is at its best when it focuses on the case in hand, the trials of the resilient Frieda who doesn’t hesitate to delve into Hannah’s psychological darkness with an unflinching eye. There’s something mesmerizing about French’s series, something atmospheric and seedy, something intriguing and addictive. Circling around a dark murder plot, the book underscores the terror lying in wait for Frieda in what will quite possibly be the dramatic climax to the series.



Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Michael Leonard, 2017

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