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Dark Saturday


Dark Saturday

At the risk of repeating myself --- a hazard at my advanced yet tender age --- I am going to wonder yet again, upon the publication of DARK SATURDAY, why the husband-wife author team collectively known as Nicci French isn’t a household name in the United States. I also could get all Elizabeth Barrett Browning about how terrific this series has been starting with BLUE MONDAY and continuing through the days of the week. I won’t do that, though. I will simply attempt to convince you why you absolutely must read DARK SATURDAY, even if the protagonist’s name means nothing to you, and then go back and read each installment of the series from start to finish.

Those familiar with Frieda Klein from previous volumes need only know this: DARK SATURDAY is a representative but nonetheless pivotal work in the series. For the uninitiated: Frieda is a quietly difficult yet oddly endearing protagonist, a psychotherapist with a keen eye for observation and a penchant for doing what’s right, even when it rubs hard against the grain. This personality trait has created a problem for her over the course of the series with London law enforcement, from top to bottom and back again, as well as some notoriety (as we are reminded frequently here) with the public at large.

"[O]nce an explosive revelation occurs...French throws a ticking clock into the mix as well as a couple of other startling revelations that make it impossible to read the book quickly enough to find out whodunit, why and how."

Yet Frieda’s knowledge in her field cannot be denied, which is why she is requested, sub rosa, to examine a murder investigation that took place a decade ago. The case is a notorious one, involving an 18-year-old named Hannah Docherty, who was arrested, tried and convicted for the brutal murders of her stepfather, mother and brother. Hannah has been at a secure psychiatric hospital ever since, which itself is horrific. The evidence was quite clear, but the primary officer in charge of the investigation has had his competency in a current investigation demonstrably impugned. Given that his prior cases may also be brought into dispute by convicted defendants, Frieda is tasked with evaluating if Hannah is in any way able to bring such an action. After a decade in the institution, she is all but beyond help, so the matter appears to be closed. Frieda, however, is troubled by inconsistencies in the cases as well as by Hannah herself.

While there isn’t one particular element that strikes Frieda as off-base, a number of disparate points speak to her, causing her to conduct an investigation more or less on her own. This once again does not exactly endear her with law enforcement or, for that matter, with people whose lives were touched by the murders so many years before. Frieda will not be denied, though, and with the help of several friends (including Josef, the unflappable carpenter who seems to be far, far more than that), she stubbornly pursues the facts to get to the heart of the truth, whatever it may be.

Meanwhile, a subplot that has run throughout the series presents itself yet again, advancing toward what appears to be a denouement. Dean Reeve is a brilliant murderer believed by the world to be dead. But Frieda thinks he is very much alive and, given his obsession with her, is watching and waiting. Reeve does not actually appear in this book, but he is a shadowy and haunting presence nonetheless who ultimately manifests himself in the most graphic and startling of ways before story’s end.

The French team likes to take its time in setting up the pieces at the beginning of each novel, and DARK SATURDAY follows that pattern. But once an explosive revelation occurs --- about halfway through --- French throws a ticking clock into the mix as well as a couple of other startling revelations that make it impossible to read the book quickly enough to find out whodunit, why and how. You will probably guess, and most likely you will be wrong. Read as fast as you can to see.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on July 14, 2017

Dark Saturday
by Nicci French