Nicci French is the pseudonym of English husband and wife, Nicci Gerrard and Sean French, who both studied English Literature at Oxford University. Together they have written 21 psychological thrillers, including the 'Frieda Klein' series, which has been published in 31 languages. The Lying Room is their first standalone novel in 10 years.
At the centre of The Lying Room is French's remarkable creation, Neve Connolly, a wife and mother of three, devoted to her family and a trusted friend and colleague. Her friend Renata calls her, "the rock we all cling to". But she has problems; "a husband who was more or less unemployed and on and off depressed, a job that ground her down; financial worries. And . . . a daughter who for years had turned her life inside out and upside down". There have been times when she "thought she would go mad with grief and anxiety".
Neve also has a secret, hidden she believes from her family and friends. She has been having an affair with her boss Saul, which has been "like a gulp of fresh water, reminding her that she still had a self, a sliver of life that belonged only to her . . . a joyful escape from the distress of her life". However, Neve's secret seem set to be revealed when, responding to a text message, she discovers Saul dead in his London flat, obviously murdered. She realises that there is overwhelming evidence of her presence in the flat the night before: the unwashed dishes, the wine glasses by the bed and she worries about the impact the news of her affair would have on her daughter, Mabel.
Mabel had been "such an eager little girl, optimistic and vulnerable, but in her teenage years that had changed, the house has slowly darkened and dread had gripped the family", as anorexia and drugs had consumed Mabel. Now she is ready to go to University and Neve knows she would do anything to ensure that Mabel's life does not unravel again.
Neve, therefore destroys all evidence of her presence in the flat, washing bedlinen and moving systematically from room to room removing her belongings, before phoning the police anonymously from a remote phone box.
Only later does she realise she has left her bracelet behind. It's unique and everyone would recognise it as hers. But when she returns undercover of darkness, the bracelet has disappeared.
As she endures questioning from both Saul's wife, who suspects the affair and the police, Neve discovers what lengths she will go to to protect her family.
The Lying Room is clever crime fiction and compulsive reading. It is an intelligent and absorbing exploration of female resilience and of the "tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive".
- The Lying Room, by Nicci French. Simon & Schuster. $29.99.