Book review: What to do when someone dies, by Nicci French

French What to do when someone dies
By Nicci French (Penguin paperback)

The writing team of Nicci Gerrard and Sean French have come up with another “can’t put down” novel in their story about Ellie Faulkner, a mid-thirties furniture restorer, who answers her door one day to be told by the police that her husband has died in a car crash. Not only that, but he was with another woman, who has also died.

Ellie believes that her marriage to Greg was happy, and so refuses to accept that he was having an affair with Milena, the passenger in the car. All of her and Greg’s friends, relations and colleagues disbelieve her and thinks her denial is part of her reaction to the shock of his death, so Ellie decides to prove that Greg was faithful.  She begins to make a timeline of Greg’s last week, based on his appointment diary and what she knows of his movements. Her friends think she is mad, and that this is part of the grieving process. The police aren’t interested. Eventually, having got as far as she can with her project, Ellie begins to infiltrate the life of the dead passenger, to see if she can find anything out from her perspective. Naturally, events spiral out of control, and we are never sure if Ellie has in fact gone a bit mad, or if she’s the sane one and will in fact find the conclusive evidence she seeks.

Ellie is a typical Nicci French protagonist, living the North London lifestyle; thin, grungy but chic, a bit of a victim who everyone seeks to protect; and plenty of devoted (somewhat implausible) friends who constantly turn up on her doorstep with food, whisky and good advice. It is this somewhat annoying veneer, however, that makes Ellie a believable heroine, as her grief and her determination to prove that her experience of her relationship with Greg is a true one, and that he did not deceive her, drive her onwards whatever the embarrassment or danger.

The novel slips down in a couple of hours, and is (despite the cliché) one of those you just can’t put down. Unfortunately I guessed all the details of the plot pretty early on, but never mind – even though it is a predictable book, it is still very exciting, well-paced and involving. It has its Swedish crime fiction elements (the authors are frequent visitors to Sweden as Sean French, one half of the duo, is half-Swedish) and its women's magazine elements, and the fusion of the two is the ultimate comfort read so far as I am concerned. 

Nicci French website, including a video of the authors talking about this book. 

Read another review of this book at Kimbofo's blog Reading Matters.