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Land of the Living    by Nicci French order for
Land of the Living
by Nicci French
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2004 (2003)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

My first encounter with Nicci French's writing moved her immediately onto my must read list. She gives us gritty thrillers (like The Red Room) that present horror with an unusual degree of empathy. Land of the Living sucks the reader into the whirlpool of its heroine's point of view from the first page, and we feel for her every trial and torment.

Abbie Deveraux awakes to a pounding head and the discovery that she is hooded and restrained in musty darkness, with no memory of how she got there. The author takes the reader through days of horror along with Abbie, who becomes very real as we share every pain and discomfort as well as her gutsy reactions to what is happening. Her shock increases as she realizes that she is not the first woman to go through this.

The psychopath who abducted her makes a rhyme of it, 'Kelly who cried and Abbie who tried ... Cried, tried, died.' He names five other women - 'Kelly. Kath. Fran. Gail. Lauren.' It appears that he wants to watch the disintegration of Abbie's personality before he kills her. Finally, when he is about to do so, she takes a desperate action, which, by a lucky accident, leads to her escape.

But then comes an even greater horror. The psychiatrist who treats her convinces the police that Abbie has had a breakdown as a result of her treatment by her abusive boyfriend, Terry, and that the abduction did not happen. Even her friends doubt her. She leaves the hospital and, despite her frail physical state and feeling like the 'Ancient Mariner', begins an investigation into the hole in her memory, those last few days before the nightmare began.

Eventually Abbie discovers that she had moved in with another young woman, Josephine Hooper, who has disappeared. She meets Ben, a friend of Josephine's, and discovers that she had spent time with him in the missing part of her life. As she follows Josephine's and her own trail, there is someone close on her heels, and it might be someone she knows well. Abbie is a very strong and brave young woman, who takes decisive action to cut through the trauma of disbelief that has hurt her so badly.

This is the best thriller that I've read in a long time; it's totally engaging as it takes the reader through Abbie's quest to return, like Persephone from the Underworld, to the 'land of the living'. I have always enjoyed Nicci French's novels, but now am doubly anxious to read what she writes next.

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