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.

7 thoughts on “Book review: What to do when someone dies, by Nicci French

  1. Maxine – I am glad you liked this one. I like the French novels. As you say, they are well-paced and exciting. Did you notice (Don’t mean to teach you how to do things) that Martin Edwards has a French review – it’s of Complicit on his blog today? Odd coincidence…

  2. Thanks so much, Margot! Yes, I had noticed Martin’s review but have not read it yet as I haven’t read the book – but I do have it on my shelf to read. Thanks, though ,for the tip- I always enjoy reading reviews of books I have read or am going to read (I bookmark the latter in my “microblog”, Filament, until I’ve read the volume in question).

  3. Maxine – I envy you your organizational ability. I should do that bookmarking thing, and really, I’ve no excuse as it’s not too complicated. Just lack of discipline…

  4. I have not read any Nicci French books for years but I did enjoy the couple I read, very good books for the long haul flight between Australia and…anywhere else. I find I need a particular kind of book for that flight – must be exciting but not too difficult to concentrate on. Will put this on my list for the next trip.

  5. I regard French as great comfort reading. I don’t think I quite liked this one as much as you, but I still found it enjoyable and lots of fun. I’ve got a copy of the latest in hardcover, but am saving that up for Easter.

  6. I like the plot idea of this one, but I have read one Nicci French which wasn´t exactly memorable (don´t know the English title) so I have not made up my mind whether to try more of them or not.
    Well, I have seventy! books between me and desperation now so I don´t have to make up my mind immediately. I have read several Scottish novels recently and enjoyed most of them immensely.

  7. Glad to hear it, Dorte, there is nothing nicer than having a huge pile of books to read and not being able to decide where to start! I agree with Bernadette, that Nicci French is very absorbing escapism. And as you say, Kim, one should not look “too” closely at the plot. But I really enjoy them, and always look forward to the next.

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