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Author – NICCI FRENCH / WARNER BOOKS Hardcovers @ $ 23.95./
U.S. Release April 09, 2003.

'an absolutely enthralling mystery '

One of the most original and excruciating ‘fem-jep’ ( women in peril ) thrillers written by British mystery authors in recent years Nicci French’s LAND OF THE LIVING is truly nightmarish. You just wish it would end. But you simply must await the ending to know what really happened. Was it all in the heroine’s mind ? Or did she suffer more than a really bizarre delusion? Were the authorities right in categorizing her as a lunatic ? Or did they commit an outrageous miscarriage of justice, and of rampant sexism? Even a sympathetic female shrink betrays our heoine’s trust.

The ordeal undergone by courageous and stubborn Londoner Abbie Devereaux - a young professional woman striving to escape unscathed from a violent relationship with her long-term partner Terry Wilmott, an alcoholic; and from the once comforting haven of a high-pressure and corrupt employer - is unnervingly described in the first fifty pages of LAND OF THE LIVING. Abducted and tethered like a sacrificial goat in a derelict stable Abbie succeeds in escaping the clutches of her kidnapper; only to be sent back to everyday life, officially discarded as a probable liar and an unconvincingly manipulative fantasist. Without a job or a home she is shuffled dejectedly from pillar to post a refugee from everything that once mattered to her, her parents uncaring, her friends frostily tolerant, every one a potential enemy, since Abbie has entirely lost a whole fortnight of memories due to a severe blow to the head. Two weeks of events that are crucial to her fate.

Ms. Devereaux is determined to painstakingly retrace every single one of her steps during the many days for which she has no substantial recollection, and in so doing to find the identity of her kidnapper and to expose him and thus recover her good name and reputation. The hostile and unforgiving decisions made by the police and by the medical specialists who examined her ‘case’ have left Abbie with no other choice. She has been cast adrift in a leaky lifeboat with no oars to pull on. And the tide of the times is not a favourable one. Abbie has no documentation, next to no cash, and relies upon the kindness of strangers, many of whom may be enmeshed in the plot that led to her swift and sudden downfall. The writing keeps the reader in constant doubt about her sanity or - at the very least - her ability to slowly recover such sanity.

Author French – actually authors Sean French and his partner Nicci – never misses a step in adroitly refreshing this story of amnesia and of disgrace. The heroine is blameless, the victim of a sociopath, yet she is exiled from polite society and thrown back on her own admirable resources. The horror implicit in LAND OF THE LIVING resides no less in the cruelty of an uncaring bureaucracy than it does in the sadism of a dyed-in-the-wool villain. And we long for her to reclaim her credibility and have her identity restored. Any one of us could fall into this chain of traps set for the unwary within the interstices of a modern Kafkaesque society that encourages utter conformity and obedience to its edicts. A society that can be ruthless in weeding out the non-conformists sending them into a hellish limbo of official ‘non-identity’. LAND OF THE LIVING is thus both a cautionary tale about the vicious and complacent caretakers of such a society as well as an absolutely enthralling mystery about the strength of will and character demanded to extricate an innocent from the laborious coils of officialdom run amok. Novelist French asks "What if ……nobody took your side when you had been horribly victimized? And what if you,the victim, were to be castigated as the perpetrator?" Not such an unbelievable predicament after all.

© Alex Grant April 2003

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