THE MEMORY GAME by Nicci French

This week’s much loved crime novel is submitted by Suzigun who blogs at Novel Heights and prefers to read murder mysteries and thrillers on her daily commute to London. 

the memory game nicci frenchThere aren’t many author’s whose first book I can vividly remember buying but Nicci French’s THE MEMORY GAME is one that really stands out. It was 1997 and I was in the process of being made redundant and had been sent to London for some “counselling” on finding another job. After the meeting I mooched along Victoria Street and couldn’t resist a wander into what I think was a Books Etc at the time. Browsing the hardback section I couldn’t resist this book (despite knowing that my funds were about to become limited). A black and silver dust jacket with a square cut-out in the centre through which you could see the image of a memorial angel in a graveyard…OK, perhaps you had to be there! But I bought the book on the strength of that beautiful cover and I didn’t regret it.

It wasn’t the best crime fiction book I’d ever read but the characters really came alive. I had no idea that this was written by two authors (husband and wife Nicci Gerrard and Sean French) rather than one, and it was some time before I found that out. The writing gave no hint of this or that it was a first novel. I enjoyed the book enough that I kept buying their titles as they were published, and what came later was a revelation. These protagonists were like me! Well not exactly like me because I’ve never been caught in the middle of a psychological thriller, but it COULD be me. The main character would be a woman, perhaps my age or a little younger and they would be normal and live the kind of life I did. Having been brought up on Christie and Sayers and American cops and lawyers this was a real eye-opener.

I bought and read and cherished each title, and yes some were better than others, but they all gripped me and swept me along with the action.

Then there was an announcement that the writers were moving away from standalone books and embarking on an eight book series. I felt hugely disappointed. Part of the joy of the books was the new characters each time; after all it would have stretched credibility too far for the characters to be caught in more than one deadly situation! So Blue Monday was published in 2011 and it’s several jobs later and in my spare time I’m reviewing and blogging about books. The main character is Frieda Klein, a psychotherapist living in London. She’s more an enigmatic than engaging character and I enjoyed the book but wasn’t blown away by it. So “Monday” was followed by “Tuesday’s Gone” and the authors managed to surprise me again. They really knew what they were doing and all those gripes I had were swept away because it was all part of a bigger picture. Yes Frieda is older, but it seems I am too – how did I not spot that! All of which made me feel foolish for my earlier disappointment – I should have trusted these people more.

So to bring this back to Maxine, I found her comments on Petrona echoed my feelings. She made some lovely comments about my review of Tuesday’s Gone, and we were both looking forward to reading “Wednesday” which has just been released. Which is sad, because when I read it I wanted to know what she thought of it too. So all I can do is say that I read it and thought of her, as I will the rest of the series and much other crime fiction.

Book Details:

author:  Nicci French (learn more at their website)
original language: English
publication date (UK): 1997

Contributor Details:

Suzigun has been blogging at Novel Heights since December 2010 and is still loving the Nicci French books, as evidenced by her recent review of their most recent release WAITING FOR WEDNESDAY


This week’s post comes to us from Martin Edwards: solicitor, crime writer and all around enthusiast for the genre and its history, a fact evidenced by his 2007 appointment as the archivist of the Crime Writers Association and his weekly contributions to Patti Abbott’s Friday’s Forgotten Books meme (which, if you’ve not yet discovered it, is a veritable treasure trove of suggestions for the crime fiction fan with an interest in books published before last week).

Maxine was a thoughtful and perceptive reviewer, someone who looked for positive things to say about a book, but who was fair and balanced whenever she expressed a reservation. As a result, words of praise from her meant a great deal to me and, I am sure, to the many other writers who benefited from both her critical insight and her generosity.

Malice-aforethought-iles-originalIn remembering Maxine, I’d like to talk about a book which I first read as a teenager and have returned to several times in the intervening years. It’s often cited as a classic of the genre, and with good reason. The title is MALICE AFORETHOUGHT, and it was published in 1931 by Francis Iles. This was a pen-name, and Iles’ identity was kept secret, and much debated, for a couple of years (surely this wouldn’t be possible in the internet age?) before it was revealed that Iles was in fact Anthony Berkeley, a successful writer of innovative Golden Age detective novels, often featuring an amateur sleuth, Roger Sheringham, who was far from infallible. In turn, Anthony Berkeley was the main pseudonym used by Anthony Berkeley Cox, one of the most enigmatic of all crime writers.

The tone of the book is set in the famous opening paragraph:

“It was not until several weeks after he had decided to murder his wife that Dr. Bickleigh took active steps in the matter. Murder is a serious business. The slightest step may be disastrous. Dr. Bickleigh had no intention of risking disaster.”

Bickleigh, henpecked by his wife Julia, is a meek fellow with an inferiority complex and Iles presents his increasingly dangerous behaviour with cynicism and wit:

“From what he had seen of marriage he did not doubt that most married men spend no small part of their lives devising wistful plans for killing off their wives – if only they had the courage to do it.”

Bickleigh reads de Quincey, and on the whole agrees with him:

“Murder could be a fine art: but it was not for everyone. Murder was a fine art for the superman. It was a pity that Nietzsche could not have developed de Quincey’s propositions. Dr Bickleigh had no doubt whatever that in murder he had qualified, not only as a fine artist, but as a superman.”

an edition tied to a 2005 adaptation with Ben Miller playing the doctor

an edition tied to a 2005 adaptation with Ben Miller playing the doctor

When the doctor becomes infatuated with an heiress, he resolves to do away with Julia, and the story of what happens next is fascinating . It’s also very cleverly plotted, so I must be careful not to give too much away. The story has been adapted for television a couple of times, most splendidly in the Seventies, with Hywel Bennett cast as Bickleigh.

I don’t’ know if Maxine ever read MALICE AFORETHOUGHT but I suspect that if she did, she found Iles’ writing as entertaining as his protagonist’s behaviour is reprehensible. In its day, the story was regarded as ground-breaking, with its focus on a murderer’s psychology rather than the process of detection. More than eighty years later, Iles’s masterpiece still reads well, and that, I think Maxine would have agreed, is as good a test as any of the quality of a crime novel.

Book Details:

author: Francis Iles (learn more via Martin Edwards’ essay on Anthony Berkeley or at the wikipedia page of Anthony Berkeley)
original language: English
publication date (UK): 1931

Contributor Details:

Martin Edwards is a practicing solicitor and crime writer with over 40 short stories and novels published. He blogs reviews and opinions related to crime writing, reading and watching at Do You Write Under Your Own Name? and his website is brimming with information about his own work and that of authors he admires.