Day of the Dead, Nicci French

This eighth volume in the Frieda Klein mystery series by husband and wife team Niccci Gerrard and Sean French is a highly satisfying wrap-up to their extended opus.   Playing with London geography as much as criminology and psychology, the novels are effective thrillers, yet give us more than enough human reality to make the journey more rewarding than disposable. 

Klein herself is astute and knowledgeable, but not unbelievably so, as with a Holmes or Poirot.  A bit more clever and self-aware than the rest of us – or the police she must often work around – but still flawed and capable of error, and clearly working very hard to maintain the equanimity which is her most notable characteristic.   Her preoccupation with the hidden rivers beneath the city is entertaining and enlightening and a very apt metaphor for all the things that lurk beneath the surface of any life or community – history, loss, violence, community. And caring and love as well. 

A rich cast of supporting characters give Klein much to live for, and the reader much reason to dread and care about the twists and turns of each mystery.  That her friend Josef, who plays a crucial role at several junctures, is an off-the-books & off-the-back-of-the-truck handyman/builder and an immigrant of questionable legality, serves as comment on the current state of relations and economics in England, and greater Europe as well.  Here and elsewhere the series takes the critique of British class prejudices which was (perhaps) implicit back in the days of Agatha Christie and became more palpable in the work of P. D. James and others, to a level appropriate to our times.  Even the trope of MI5 lurking in the background of British life is toyed with, without being given a free-pass on its morality.   Nicci French clearly feel more sympathy for the lower-middle and working-classes than peers, pliticians and captains of industry.

Seasoned plotters with at least eleven other novels behind them, Nicci French create credible crimes with enough complexity that the brutality involved need not be belabored.  From the start of this series, they established a through line – the mysterious, clever and ruthless villain Dean Reeve – to bridge from volume to volume, but were wise enough to detour into several largely-separate mysteries for some of the volumes, before tying it all back to Reeve for the ultimate resolution.

Patrick O’Brien’s Aubrey/Maturin novels come to mind, as another example of a single story played out over multiple volumes. This Klein series numbers only about than half that one’s volumes, and does not involve anything like the historic reconstruction of O’Brien’s work, but it is sufficiently substantial to be, arguably, a similar achievement within its genre.  (Or perhaps there are other mystery series out there with a similar combination of who-done-it and where is it all going and the arc of lives lived out, and I have just not yet encountered them.)

I read the series more or less as they came out, so not knowing if or how the authors would play it out.  Suspect it might be even more rewarding to read them now, knowing where each fits in the overall arc.  Someday, if I have the time…

Entirely satisfying – except in the sense that one is so very sorry to know the series has ended and there will be no more Frieda Klein novels to look forward to.  Not that Nicci French couldn’t write more – there is at least one very large red herring left in this sea on which to hook a sequel – but the reflections voiced through their characters suggest pretty clearly that they have done what they wanted to do here and have moved on. 

 Darn.

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