The Unheard by Nicci French: Fast-paced action and emotional intensity - book review -

When does a mother’s love for her child tip from natural protectiveness into dangerous paranoia?

Feel the menace and share the frissons of fear as a brilliant writing team unleashes a new standalone thriller… a coruscating exploration of a guilt-ridden mother’s mind as she becomes convinced that her three-year-old daughter has witnessed a terrible crime.

Psychological suspense is firmly ingrained into the DNA of Nicci French, pseudonym for the extraordinary literary partnership of journalists Nicci Gerrard and Sean French, the married couple whose twenty-three novels include the bestselling Frieda Klein series.

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And this superbly crafted new page-turner – brimming with nerve-jangling tension and a mesmerising sense of foreboding – sweeps readers into the life of a troubled single mother, still reeling from the split with her partner, and fast spiralling into a web of suspicion and obsessive behaviour.

Part-time primary school teacher Tess Moreau’s number one priority has always been her three-year-old daughter Poppy. But since the separation from Poppy’s father Jason, who now has a new partner, Tess has felt guilt that Poppy, ‘so small, so vulnerable and trusting,’ has had to watch her world split in two.

Tess knows she cannot always be there to keep her daughter safe and is horrified that after a weekend with Jason, Poppy returns with a bundle of drawings which includes a disturbing black crayoned picture that is ‘simple and basic and violent.’

And when Poppy starts having bad dreams and repeating the phrase ‘He did kill. Kill and kill and kill,’ Tess becomes increasingly convinced that her frightened little girl has witnessed something terrible, something that her young mind is struggling to put into words and is impossible for Tess to understand.

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But no one will listen to Tess’s fears, telling her it’s only a child’s drawing. And when she eventually goes to the police to voice her concerns, a police inspector tells her that they cannot investigate because there is no suspicious death and just a crime that ‘doesn’t seem to exist.’

Tess tries to tell herself that she is just being the kind of over-protective mother that she promised herself she would never be but instinct tells her that something ‘doesn’t feel right’ and she determines to protect Poppy, whatever the price.

But when she doesn’t know what, or who, she is protecting her from, how can she possibly know who to trust?

The Unheard hits the mark on every level thanks to ingenious plotting, a cast of acutely observed and authentic characters, and a powerful story which delves into the darkest recesses of the mind and delivers razor-sharp observations of a mother and child under extreme stress.

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Full of this dynamic writing duo’s trademark twists and turns, fast-paced action and emotional intensity, Tess’s increasingly unsettling search for the truth throws up a trail of possible suspects and takes us on a wild and totally unpredictable rollercoaster ride.

As the behaviour of our narrator Tess becomes more obsessional, the suspicion grows that she may be delusional and manipulative and, fuelling a simmering mystery that carries right through to the final reveal and a satisfying twist in the tail.

A masterclass in thriller writing!

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £8.99)