Newest Review: ... a woman. Women, imagine you're yourself. One day a curiously hand-delivered note falls into your world. It's cryptic, personal, and written... more
A Great Thriller From Nicci French's Best Years
Beneath the Skin - Nicci French
Member Name: missrarr
Beneath the Skin - Nicci French
Advantages: Gripping, believable, unique perspective and well written
Disadvantages: None - provided you don't mind remembering when we didn't all have iPhones
Brace yourselves, people, for here be another review from "The Commuter Files" - in other words I got so fed up of being forced to travel in the company of others that I decided to lose myself in books again. There might be a few of these coming up in the near future....
The book is Beneath The Skin by Nicci French, a book I have had for so long that the sides of the pages have long been yellow and I can say for sure I have read it at least twice with gaps in between sufficiently long that I can be sure I will be surprised by some forgotten twist, scene or detail to make it worthwhile.
It looks like, on Amazon basis, this has been reprinted with new covers a few times, but surprisingly without digging quite deep I can't find any new copies from Amazon directly, so this is going back a bit. Three books came out under the author's name before the release of this in 2000.
Nicci French, who doesn't actually exist - it's a combination of the names of husband and wife writing team, Nicci Gerard and Sean French.
Before it became commonly known that these two were writing as a team, their books were an interesting twist on the crime thriller genre, often given a very personal (usually female) perspective of victims of sometimes horrific crimes. Coupled with an interesting and flexible approach to writing styles, including in the first person of the victims, this was an attractive writing style and for a short time I remember "Nicci" being quite hot property in the crime thriller market.
Chaps, imagine you're a woman. Women, imagine you're yourself. One day a curiously hand-delivered note falls into your world. It's cryptic, personal, and written by hand by someone who claims to want to kill you.
How do you feel? What do you do?
Even more than that, what do you do when you're the first to receive it? You're the one who has to make first contact with the police, cope with the unnerving feeling, tell yourself that you're probably perfectly safe when you're riddled with doubt. And when they keep coming, you've got to convince people to take it seriously when you're caving in inside.
That's what starts to happen when Zoe Haratounian receives such a note after a random act of heroism during a street mugging. But initially the very police who claim to have a photo of her on their office wall in honour of her bravery can't take her worries seriously when the notes start arriving - assuming it's just one of the many harmless loons who have been sending her "fanmail" ever since.
But those letters dry up. The notes don't. And French (I'm going to refer to the author as one person for the sake of ease!) brilliantly portrays Zoe's struggle to deal with the scenario into which she is forced.
The story is told first-person, starting with Zoe, then moving on the next woman to receive the notes, then the third. Each are markedly different women, but have come to fascinate the man stalking them with the intent to kill, a character we are sometimes allowed to see an insight to with his own first-person thoughts on women as he watches them in a baking hot London summer.
One woman is a wealthy housewife redecorating a luxurious London home, bothered rather than comforted by the police presence in her life and generally irritated by the whole thing, more concerned about how much it is annoying her husband, who she admits probably no longer loves her, a womn who treats her entire life with a clinical efficiency.
Another is a strong, slightly directionless children's entertainer, whilst initial victim Zoe a primary school teacher who feels trapped in a grotty London flat she wishes she had never bought, with a transient bunch of friends. There's no obvious connection, partly because these women would never have interacted and partly because of clever placement of confusing evidence by the stalker sending the letters, then also in a later twist, when there finally appears to be one connection through pure chance, it comes to nothing.
The narrative switches from Zoe, then in turn to the next people targeted by this anonymous writer, and we see their reactions grow in different ways as his communications become more threatening, personal and graphic.
***AND IN THE INTERESTS OF AVOIDING SPOILERS...***
...that's about as much as I can tell you! So on to the experience as a reader.
I love this book. There is a reason I have come back to it more than once. It is clever in that it is told by not just three main characters but in places also by the man who wants to kill them. The shocking, gripping element here is not in the gruesome, bloody murder as seems the case with every similar effort in the genre trying to out-shock one another with increasingly imaginative and sickening ways of ending human life.
The scary thing here is the psychology. The terror, or the ignorance of the potential victims. One lacking element is that there is no real explanation for the motivation or cause thereof regarding the perpetrator, but one thing that I sadly think would be very true is particularly evident in Zoe's story, the sheer, and vain, effort required in persuading the authorities that the threat to her life was real and terrifying. Sadly, I suspect that if you're going to attract the attentions of such a stalker, you're far better off being one of the later victims.
I devoured this book, again, in about three days of commuting. I recall being unable to put it down before and sure enough, the same was true this time. The characterisation was strong and each woman was believable, with the connection between the perpetrator executed well enough to make it believable.
In short? A top class thriller from the fictional Nicci French. Having read later efforts, I think the initial novelty of the writing style wore off and also the ideas were not as fresh, but this is the "author" writing at their full strength and on the top of their game. If you're tempted to pick up a copy, remember this is still from an era so recent yet still before Skype, iPhones, iPods, Facebook and Twitter, a short era of social networking and technological development that has sadly already relegated so many good recent books to feeling outdated, but it is still a great read for any fan of the crime thriller genre.
This seems to no longer be available new on Amazon but can be bought new through sellers from £6. It's also got a Kindle version.
Summary: A gripping read that represents some of an author's best work