“Entire walls shivered and then crumbled to the ground; inside walls suddenly become outside walls . . . hidden lives suddenly exposed” (p. 23).
London psychotherapist Frieda Klein has gone to great lengths to impose order on her life. Estranged from her family and reluctant to sacrifice her independence for love, Frieda has achieved tremendous success throughout her career. So after her celebrated mentor, Reuben McGill, suffers a breakdown, she is asked to take over one of his patients. Frieda accepts, only to be drawn into a world of dark uncertainties when her new patient’s disturbing dreams become a chilling reality.
At forty–two, Alan Dekker doesn’t believe he’s having a midlife crisis. Until recently, Alan felt at peace with the quiet life that he and his wife, Carrie, had made together. Then he began having the nightmares. He doesn’t “want to be the kind of person who had such things in his head” (p. 24), but he can’t stop them from coming. Afraid to sleep and unable to work or be intimate with Carrie, Alan has become a desperate man.
Frieda promises Alan a “place where you come and talk about yourself, with honesty” (p. 53). Warily, he begins to open up, recalling a similar period twenty years earlier when he was also plagued by nightmares and longings until they both just went away. Then, Alan confides that he’s sterile. He and Carrie never pursued infertility treatments or adoption, but lately he’s yearned for a son—a “little boy who looks like me” (p. 71).
Alan returns for his next session, bearing a photo of himself as a young boy. She’s struck by how much young Alan looks like Matthew Farraday, the five–year–old whose recent disappearance dominates the headlines. Tearfully, Alan acknowledges the resemblance, saying, “He’s my dream.”
Could it really just be a coincidence? And, as a therapist, how could Frieda justify reporting Alan to the police? All the same, a young boy is missing and Frieda knows she can’t ignore her nagging sense that Alan knows more than either of them cares to admit. And what will it take for the prickly Detective Chief Inspector Karlsson to listen to her? Wintry, atmospheric London is more than a backdrop for Frieda—it is a dark, dangerous character in this novel. Suspenseful and haunting, Nicci French’sBlue Monday introduces a compelling heroine in a riveting new series that fans of psychological thrillers will not want to miss.
ABOUT NICCI FRENCH
Nicci French is the pseudonym for the internationally bestselling partnership of suspense writers Nicci Gerrard and Sean French. They are married and live in Suffolk and London, England.
A CONVERSATION WITH NICCI FRENCH
Q. Blue Monday is your thirteenth book and the first book in a new series of psychological thrillers that introduces Frieda Klein, a psychotherapist. What was the inspiration for this new series?
Frieda came along before the idea of writing a series did. We had always said we wrote stand–alone thrillers, but then we thought about a central character who is a therapist, someone who believes you can’t solve the mess in the world but you can try to address the mess in your own head, the pain and fear and anxiety inside of you. We thought of her as a different kind of detective, a detective of the mind, who is unwillingly dragged by the events that unfurl in the novel out into the real world.
Once we had imagined Frieda—solitary, insomniac, prickly, difficult, honorable, trustworthy, fiercely private—we knew she needed more than one book. She has to be discovered over time. And from that the octet gradually emerged. The books will cover a decade in Frieda’s life and the lives of the cast that she assembles around her; we want to see how time marks them, how they are changed by the experiences they live through together.
Also, we became excited by the idea of writing eight books that could stand as gripping thrillers in their own right, but which are also connected by one overarching story. In Blue Monday a fuse is lit that will burn its way through the remaining seven books, coming to a climax in the final novel.
Q. Where did the title Blue Monday come from?
This is the first book of a planned series of dark thrillers that will be named after the days of the week. The title Blue Mondayseemed perfect to us because it is about beginnings but also about the difficulty of beginning, its pains and regrets and fears. It also happens to be the title of two (very different) great songs—by Fats Domino and New Order.
Q. Set against a backdrop of a dark, tangled London, Blue Monday illustrates your power over sense of place. As Frieda navigates its streets, one can almost feel the damp chill of London’s foggy night air. What is your writing process? What are some things about the London you depict in your books that those of us in the United States might not know?
As regards London, our writing process is to do what we have always done, which is to spend a lot of our time walking, cycling—and sometimes running—around the city, exploring its hidden alleys, squares, canals. We both have spent many years living in the city and every time we go out we see something completely new. Much of Blue Monday came out of those walks.
A few things you need to know about London:
It’s big; really big. Greater London is about thirty–five miles across.
It’s really old. It’s been a continuously functioning (and dis–functioning) city since the Romans and it has been built on, burnt down, bombed, demolished, and built on again, over and over.
London is really a collection of villages that used to be separated by fields and meadows and woodlands and orchards that gradually got filled up but which still hang on to their identity. In good ways and bad, London is a jangling mess. North Londoners don’t like South London, East Enders feel persecuted by everybody, West Kensington isn’t really in Kensington, and wherever you’re from, anywhere in the world, you’ll find a community somewhere in London.
London is a landscape as much as a city—one of the oldest and most complicated landscapes in England.
And still, there’s so much that we don’t understand about London. For example, why do tourists always go to Madame Tussauds?
Q. Are there any real–life cases that informed or influenced your writing?
There was not one particular case that inspired the events of Blue Monday, and, really, the source of the plot came from the visceral feeling we have about lost children—like a fairy story, a myth, every parent’s nightmare. On the other hand, there are of course the vivid stories we’ve read and thought about over the years: Elisabeth Fritzl, held captive by her father for twenty–four years in a concealed basement; the kidnap and extraordinary rescue of Jaycee Dugard. There are cases in the UK of, for instance, Madeleine McCann, which so gripped this country; the schoolgirls Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells, who disappeared and were later discovered to have been killed by their school caretaker; the disappearance of twenty–one–month–old Ben Needham when on holiday on a Greek island. . . . There are dozens of famous cases that have gripped the nation, and many more that we don’t ever hear of. These children who go missing haunt the lives of those who know and love them—and this is what we wanted to write about.
Q. What are some things about you that might surprise those of us in the United States?
Sean: My mother is Swedish and we spend every New Year in central Sweden. On New Year’s Eve we have a sauna and jump through a hole in the ice.
Nicci and I studied the same subject (English literature) at the same university (Oxford) but we didn’t meet until ten years later.
In 2005, we ran the London Marathon together. Literally—we crossed the line at the same time.
Nicci: I broke my back a few years ago (and have sworn never to get on a horse again).
I am trained as a celebrant—I can bury people!
One of my passions is growing chilies—very, very hot chilies. Another is eating them (if you eat burningly hot chilies when they are frozen, you can taste their real flavor and only later do they explode in your chest like a small bomb).
Q. Frieda is a psychotherapist. What kind of research did you do to make her so real?
Sean: Frieda emerged from our fascination with the whole subject of doctors whose job it is to make sense of our lives just from the way we talk about them. We have friends who are therapists, we have a certain experience with therapy, we’ve talked to people who have undergone therapy, and we’ve read an awful lot about it.
Nicci: And also, in a way, therapy is a bit like writing itself: you take chaos and put order onto it, a road out of the dark woods.
Q. What are you working on now?
Sean: We’ve just finished the second Frieda Klein and we’re standing nervously by the edge plucking up the nerve to dive into the third one.
Q. You are known as the internationally bestselling author Nicci French, yet there are two of you: Nicci Gerrard and Sean French, writing partners and husband and wife. Why did you decide to start writing fiction together?
Sean: In the first years we were married, we talked about the idea. We knew that people could collaborate in different ways but we were interested in whether two people could write a novel that had one voice, where you were really creating a new person.
Nicci: It was like an experiment. But looking back at it, all these years and fourteen books later, it seems so odd, such a strange thing to do when we were both working flat out anyway, with four tiny children racing around the house. We didn’t do it because we thought we would write a book, get it published, become Nicci French. We did it to see if we could do it, because it seemed like a shared adventure—and it has been a shared adventure, a way of exploring the world together.
Q. How do you manage coauthorship? Do you sit down and write together or do you take it in shifts?
Nicci: When we talk about how we write together we tend to make it sound much neater and better managed than it is—it’s actually a rather chaotic and messy business. The one thing we never do is actually sit down and write together, and the thought of one of us dictating to the other is a kind of madness, it just wouldn’t work. We spend a long time talking about the shape of the novel, the story, the way the plot goes, the development of the characters, and above all the voice of the narrator into whom we both have to write; and once we’re satisfied with that, then we’ll start to write. The writing will quite often take us away from the plan, but that’s what we do. One of us will write, say, the first chapter and then hand it over to the other who is absolutely free to change it, edit it, erase it, add other words to it, and then that person will write the next chapter and pass it back. It’s a question of moving between the two of us. We never decide in advance who’s going to write what chapter. There’s no division.
Sean: We felt that in order for it to work we both have to be responsible for everything, whether we (individually) have written it or not. If there’s any research that needs doing for a book, then we both have to do it, we both have to have all of it in our heads.
Nicci: If Sean writes something and I change absolutely nothing about that whole section, but I read it and approve it, then it becomes mine as well. It becomes a kind of Nicci French thing, so we both own each word of it.
Q. Why did you choose to write crime novels?
Nicci: I’m interested in crime in the sense that I’m interested in the strange path that people’s lives can go down. I’m not so much interested in the criminal; I’m much more interested in the victim, the effects of the crime and what lies beneath the settled surface. Most people, when you meet them, present themselves as ordered and controlled; they have a self–possessed image. Underneath that, everybody is a welter of doubt, grief, loss, nostalgia, love, and hate; that’s what I’m interested in. The thrillers that we write are not about fiendishly clever serial killers outwitting the police; they’re about ordinary people who have extraordinary things happening in the middle of their lives, and the way that they change and have to resolve things. I think that attracts us to the thriller genre.
Q. You chose to use a female pseudonym, and almost all your novels so far have been written from a female viewpoint. Is there a reason for this?
Sean: The first idea we had was about recovered memory, and because 99 percent of those who recover their memory in therapy are women, the main character obviously had to be a woman. Once that was decided, it just seemed to follow that if we were going to choose a name, it should be a female name. Women have achieved a kind of independence and equality, a nominal independence, and yet so many things haven’t changed. There are so many kinds of unexpected pressures that have come along with that, and that seemed an interesting road to go down.
Nicci: It is that sense of there being a crosscurrent between what modern women are like now—assertive, independent, strong, ambitious, and yet still physically vulnerable, but also vulnerable to all the things that attack us from the past, all the things we’re conditioned to feel. There’s a kind of emotional vulnerability and intelligence, a particular kind of female intelligence that seems to be a good way of looking at the world.
(Spoiler Warning: Plot points may be revealed)During her first session with Alan, Frieda tells him, “This is a place where you come and talk about yourself, with honesty. You can do it in a way that you probably can’t with anyone else, not with close friends or your wife or people you work with” (p. 53). Could most of us use a place like the one she describes? What is your opinion of psychotherapy?Were you surprised that nine–year–old Rosie was in charge of getting Joanna, her five–year–old sister, home safely from school? At what age do you think one child can be responsible for another? Has this changed from the time Rosie was a girl?Decades later, Rosie is still crippled by guilt over Joanna’s disappearance. Why do we often feel just as guilty about things that aren’t our fault as those that are?When Dean is stalking Matthew, he thinks, “It’s always like this. There comes a moment when you just know. It’s as simple as that. After all these months of watching, of waiting for the tug on the line and the bait to be taken, of being patient and careful, of wondering if this one is possible or that one, of never giving up or getting downhearted, then suddenly it happens” (p. 68). Do you think that Joanna and Matthew are Dean’s only victims?Sandy didn’t tell Frieda about the job he’d accepted at Cornell until weeks after they’d become romantically involved. Was Frieda right to feel betrayed? Or did Sandy’s hopes that Frieda would join him in America justify his silence?What does Frieda’s relationship with Chloe tell you about the psychotherapist? Why do you think she is estranged from the rest of her family?After giving birth to twins, June Reeve abandoned one of the babies in a park and kept the other. Why didn’t June tell Dean that he had a brother? If evil can be ranked, who is ultimately more wicked, June or Dean?Even after Chief Inspector Karlsson learns that Terry is Joanna, he wants to press charges against her for Matthew’s kidnapping. After being kidnapped herself and brainwashed into accepting a new identity, do you think Terry/Joanna is responsible for her own actions? Should the police treat her as a criminal or as a victim?Besides reporting her suspicions to the police, Frieda breaches doctor–patient confidentiality by investigating Alan’s life without his knowledge. Does the nature of the crime excuse her ethical lapse?At the end of the novel, Matthew has been rescued, but the Farradays are reluctant to allow the police to question their son. What would you do in a similar circumstance, as a parent? If you are a parent, did having a child either increase or diminish your sense of community with the rest of humanity?
Blue Monday is a collaborative work between two writers. Could you tell that more than one voice was involved?