It always seems to be dark out or raining in Nicci French’s thriller, appropriately named Blue Monday, the first in a new series featuring Frieda Klein, a loner psychotherapist who, we’re quick to find out, needs her space.

Ambiance and setting ring large in this sometimes terrifying tale. Not the least of the drama is the contrast in moods between the drab London streets and the warm, cozy atmosphere that Frieda creates for herself and her patients. In her solitary apartment, there’s always a comfy couch, a book waiting in the lamplight and a fire ready to be lit to dispel the gloom. Bedraggled patients always get to dry off and warm up, and Frieda’s cool distance and willingness to listen all but compel them to disgorge their secrets and complaints.

When five-year-old Matthew goes missing, it doesn’t take long before the strange circumstances of the abduction reach back and connect to a similar tragedy—the kidnapping of a young girl 25 years earlier. To make matters worse, one of Frieda’s patients is describing ferocious, odd dreams involving a young boy who, in the patient’s description, is remarkably similar to the kidnapped Matthew. Frieda’s tidy and solitary world turns upside down as her concerns about her patient’s dreams worm their way into her mind and force her to move out of her cozy circle of calm. She reports her worries to authorities and eventually joins a gritty, purposeful London police inspector in a race to find the child and trap a kidnapper.

This twisted, ferocious story tangles around the reader, pitting a controlled, predictable world against one of darkness, paranoia and the passions of characters who can’t escape their pasts or vanities. Flawed and unforgettable characters move throughout these pages, going about their lives, stuck in their own vulnerabilities but still struggling to have their voices heard.

Readers looking for a magical cure-all may be surprised when the pages disclose not-so-sunny twists. Still, a Christmas celebration like you’ve never seen, peopled with the odd and fragmented people of Frieda’s newly expanding world, offers an emotional and satisfying scene as the book winds down. Suspenseful writing and marvelous descriptions make this series one to follow and Blue Monday an addictive read.

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