REVIEWS BY ALEX GRANT
OF THE LIVING
A BOOK REVIEW BY ALEX GRANT.
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 Frenchs 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 heroines 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 heoines
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
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
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
all rights reserved