Land of the Living
Nicci French
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Land of the Living
Nicci French
432 pages
May 2004
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Harrowing. What a gruesome pleasure it is to read such a mystery as Nicci French's Land of the Living, unable to stop turning pages in the dark of night, compulsively thinking "just one more chapter, then I'll stop". And at the end, fearful of what the last few pages would reveal, I still kept reading, certainly less brave than the heroine. This beautifully crafted book is a refresher course for bored authors who glibly churn out thrillers with hackneyed plots, filling quotas and cashing six-figure advances, while disappointing scores of readers who deserve better. This author will not disappoint her fans.

We make the acquaintance of Abbie Devereaux in the most extreme of conditions -- hands and feet bound, head covered by a rough bag, a wire around her neck and a filthy gag in her mouth. She does what women like to think we would do: she perseveres, survives. A blow to the head has erased her most recent memory, but day by day, Abbie keeps her wits sharpened, imagining the outdoors, the blue sky, a yellow butterfly. She is routinely tormented by her captor and left alone for long periods, gradually breaking down psychologically, almost willing to relinquish life and disappear rather than endure. Unbelievably, an unexpected opportunity allows Abbie to escape, blindly fleeing until she reaches the police and shelter.

Still, there is no hard evidence for the police to track down Abbie's kidnapper, other than her word. After physical tests and thorough examination, a female therapist argues that all of this is a young woman's unfounded hysteria, a bid for attention from a patient prone to depression. Even Abbie's closest friends aren't sure whether she is telling the truth or simply confused. Disheartened, Abbie alone acknowledges her ordeal, haunted by nightmares and the fear that her captor is somewhere out there, waiting to reclaim her. Every waking moment is magnified by imminent danger. But having come so close to death and surviving, Abbie finds unexpected resources within herself. She begins the arduous task of following in her own footsteps, piecing together remnants of memory and scraps of information, drawing ever closer to reliving the unfathomable fear that began the ordeal.

French has meticulously plotted each step of Abbie's search for answers, one clue after another. Unveiling a different side of the young woman who apparently led a routine city life, nothing is as it seems and Abbie is constantly confronted with conflicting evidence. With remarkable courage born of desperation and trusting no one, Abbie leads the reader through an excruciatingly nerve-wracking chase, culminating inů Well, you'll see. (A confession: I am one of those readers who frequently reads the last few pages of a novel, but this time, something told me not to spoil the surprise, and with good reason.) Keep the lights on.

© 2003 by Luan Gaines for Curled Up With a Good Book

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