The latest mystery from dynamic psychological suspense duo Nicci Gerrard and Sean French opens with a feline picking its way through the debris of a grisly murder scene.
The victim, Ruth Lennox, is a 44-year-old Londoner, health worker, and married mother of three with the kind of apparently faultless and open-book life that makes psychotherapist and unofficial police adviser Frieda Klein immediately suspicious.
It could be a burglary, surmises pompous, unwelcome-on-the-scene criminal psychologist Hal Bradshaw. “A burglary is an invasion of a home, a violation, a rape,” he informs Detective Chief Inspector Malcolm Karlsson. “This man was expressing anger against a whole area of life that was closed to him, an area of property and family ties and social status . . . He was trying to literally wipe an expression off her face, an expression of superiority. He was redecorating the room with her blood.”
Karlsson can’t stand Bradshaw — he much prefers working with Klein. Unfortunately, following a recent crime-related near-fatal attack that landed Klein in intensive care for a month, Karlsson’s boss has sidelined Klein and now, much to Karlsson’s chagrin, is championing Bradshaw.
“Waiting For Wednesday,’’ the third installment in a series based around Klein, skillfully balances on a barely-there thread of a tightrope, straddling police procedural-psychological suspense territory while keeping its protagonist utterly human, flaws and all.
At the start of the book, though, Klein, is more understandably traumatized by the assault than simply flawed. Then there is the unresolved matter of her still-at-large stalker. Invading her psychologically emotional tension is one Seamus Dunne, a creepy potential client who materializes at her office, spouting off, and wanting help with his alleged dark side. His story rings several alarm bells in Klein’s head, one of which will lead her in an extended, distinctly unmerry and highly dangerous dance.
Elsewhere, scrupulous 60-something journalist Jim Fearby, whose crusade to expose the wrongful conviction of George Conley for murder has succeeded with Conley’s release, is now busy pursuing leads regarding the real killer. Very much on his own, Fearby is scouring news reports, archives, and chasing tips from anonymous police officers skulking about in pubs.
Then, Ruth Lennox’s secret life is exposed, and Karlsson’s murder case blows wide open. Ruth’s husband comes under new scrutiny as does her super-efficient, highly competent sister, Judith, who has a creepy (read: not necessarily sympathetic) sense of duty when it comes to looking after family. As the puzzles and clues pile up, Karlsson turns to Klein informally for advice.
Klein has a certain — though certainly not infallible — knack for perceiving the shadier aspects of people and is armed with an incisive understanding of where our secrets reside: “real secrets,” she muses, “aren’t found in objects, in schedules, in the words we speak or the expressions we put on our faces, in underwear drawers and filing cabinets, deleted texts, and diaries pushed to the bottom of the bag. They are lodged far deeper, unguessable even to ourselves.”
Klein also is lucky enough to have an extensive support network which includes Inspector Karlsson; her handyman, Josef; her sister-in-law and her daughter; and her lover, Sandy, currently based in New York.
She proves tenacious and empathetic, inquiring and perceptive, generating endless respect from Karlsson, friends, and fellow psychotherapists. She’s also completely susceptible to threatening situations that would scare the bejesus out of any normal person: When Klein, distraught over past scares as well as over frightening developments, tells a friend, “sometimes I wish I weren’t doing this job at all. I’d like to be a potter, that’s what I’d like. I’d have a lump of clay on my wheel, and it wouldn’t matter what I was feeling or what anybody was feeling. At the end of it, I’d have a pot. Or a cup. Or a bowl,” you believe her completely.Daneet Steffens is a journalist and book critic. Follow her on Twitter @daneetsteffens.