Blue Monday
Nicci French
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Buy *Blue Monday* by Nicci French online

Blue Monday
Nicci French
Penguin Books
336 pages
March 2013
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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In Blue Monday, author Nicci French posits the searing emotional wasteland of London one hot summer afternoon in 1987. Five-year-old Joanna Vine goes missing outside a sweetshop, leaving her sister, Rose, devastated and her parents, Deborah and Richard, unable to comprehend the tragedy or the despair. With her dark hair, thin face and one chipped tooth, Joanna’s inexplicable loss begins a never-ending nightmare of recrimination and sadness.

While the sun appears low in the sky and shadows lay over streets and houses, a frantic search of the city center turns into a coordinated operation. But no trace of Joanna is ever found, and the girl's presence becomes a ghost, melting into the past like a wisp of memory or a forgotten celebrity. Life, of course, must go on. Deborah learns to let go by starting a new family, while Richard--chaotic and unchanging in his grief--descends into drink, silently waiting for his little girl to return.

Although Joanna Vine’s case is never actually closed, there is gradually less and less to report. Consultant psychoanalyst Frieda Klein is oblivious to the tragedy that played out over twenty years before when she learns from the paper that red-haired Matthew Faraday has vanished in circumstances eerily similar to Joanna’s. What sets Matthew’s disappearance apart from a multitude of ill-fated missing children is Frieda’s sessions with Alan Dekker, who has come to see her because he’s been suffering from severe and recurrent anxiety.

Plagued by dreams of having a son with red hair, Alan’s confessions take on a new and startling meaning when Frieda opens the paper and reads about Matthew. Alan’s anguished confidences drive Frieda to seek out the advice of foul-mouthed, no-nonsense DCI Malcolm Karlsson. A “real copper” with an innate sense of justice, Malcolm decides to review the two cases separated by twenty-two years and joined together by nothing more than the fact that both kids were the same age and vanished without a trace in the middle of the day.

French's tense novel is strong on graphic plot and dialogue. The author effects a gritty, waste-strewn London where underground characters lurk beneath its streets, quickly becoming the stuff of nightmares. From the outset, Malcolm’s frustration with both cases is palpable--until Frieda enters his office and tells him of Alan’s strange and acute longing to have a child of his own. As Alan’s fantasies vie for prominence with Frieda’s own romantic needs, the fragments of memories compete with strange coincidences and Karlsson's odd feelings of half-baked intuition that eventually expose a whisper of dual personalities.

The constant rain and howling wind pound Oxford Street, Soho, and the anonymous mansion blocks and shabby hotels of the East End. The tale accelerates in layers of great psychological trauma, a snatched child and a fantasy son starkly connected. In order to unlock certain aspects of the case, Frieda turns in desperation to her mentor, Reuben McGill, while her new friend, Ukrainian builder Josef, shares his own story, coaxing Frieda into a new place of dark and oppressive secrets.

A shiver of disquiet runs through Frieda as she walks the streets of London by night, ruminating over the fact that Alan looks so much like the boy who has gone missing. In the first of what I hope will be many episodes in this series, French’s novel builds towards a stunning finale, taking us to the precipice of mistaken identity where the fates of the two children are eventually solved in a brilliant flash of bate and switch.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2012

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