Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on The French Girl.
Severine doesn't ask questions. Those dark, unreflective eyes made their judgment. Ten years ago. Lately, Kate Channing sees the French girl wherever she goes but doesn't question the visitation. Long after a fateful week-long trip to the Dordogne in France with five close friends, Kate carries the pain of betrayal: thinking his partner asleep or passed out, Kate's boyfriend, Sebastian, crept from bed for an assignation with Severine. She was the girl next door, cheerfully joining the visiting Londoners as they partied. It didn't matter that Severine wasn't around to say goodbye the next day. People were either hung over or out of sorts following a night of reveling, nursing their headaches and bruised feelings.
A decade has passed, the London friends going their separate ways, starting careers, barely keeping in touch. All but two--Kate and Lara are still best friends. Sebastian has married, Caroline is an ambitious attorney, and Tom has recently broken off an engagement. They've lost Theo, who died in the war. No one ever asks about Severine, a vague memory at best.
Everything changes when Lara announces the imminent arrival of a French detective, Alain Modan, who seeks interviews from everyone present that last night in France. It seems Severine has been found at the bottom of a well, a homicide victim, her body broken, discarded. All of them are worried about the coming interviews. Most barely remember that last drunken night, ashamed that none had thought to inquire about the young woman who so captivated the males. When they gather at Caroline's place to reminisce and compare recollections, more than one are anxious about what the detective might discover.
Suddenly thrown together with the threat of homicide hanging over their heads, the friends renew former bonds, each a little undone by Severine's fate. Everyone is there, awkward in their uneasy gathering--even Sebastian, who broke Kate's heart with his careless betrayal. Kate struggles to maintain her composure when facing Seb, who introduces his new wife. He is just as handsome and charming as when he was younger, and Kate finds it useful to hang on to Tom and Lara for support. Lara hides her excitement about seeing the French detective, keeping the attraction between them secret. Elliott's classic murder drama is fast-paced with an undercurrent of danger, the mixed emotions of characters in flux as they excavate the details of that final night in France, each interacting with Severine at some point. Though she doesn't mention it, Kate finds comfort in the appearance of the murdered French girl, sharing her feelings for Seb and a newfound interest in Tom, her dreams haunted by the bits of memory of the night she was betrayed.
The reactions of the others are viewed through Kate's perspective, an uneasy blend of former affection and the return of Kate's chronic discomfort with Caro, the spoiled, demanding woman who was often dismissive of Kate. The drama escalates when the interviews begin, the ruthless, albeit suave detective drawing closer to the truth. Personal complications ratchet up an already difficult situation. The author places her characters in the drama strategically, like pawns in a game that won't end well. I particularly like that Elliott spins her tale in present time, Severine joining the group through Kate's uncanny visitation. Confusion and suspicion aside, one of these people is a murderer, and no one is safe until the French detective lands his prey.