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The Red Room    by Nicci French order for
Red Room
by Nicci French
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2002 (2001)
Hardcover, Paperback, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The Red Room reminded me of both Val McDermid's Killing the Shadows and of Minette Walters' psychological thrillers. Dr. Katherine (Kit) Quinn is a skilled young psychiatrist who works at a hospital for the criminally insane and also does consultations at the Welbeck Clinic. The latter occasionally do an assessment for the local police when someone disturbed is taken into custody. Dr. Quinn is called on to interview a creepy character named Michael Doll, who has been hanging around an elementary school. When he panics, Kit is slashed in the face with a broken mug, with resulting nightmares.

Soon after her recovery from this attack, Kit is called on once more to assess Michael Doll, now suspected of the murder of a teenage runaway named Lianne, who was found dead by a canal in an unsavory part of the city. Kit annoys her police contact by pointing out the flaws in his investigation technique that force them to release their suspect. She becomes obsessed with the case of this unwanted young woman, perhaps because of her own history. Then another woman is killed, this time a middle class mother abducted from the side of her small daughter in broad daylight.

Kit's interest in the murders leads to an on again off again relationship with the police investigation, a rather grim romance with Will Pavic who runs a drop-in center, and to the peculiar Michael Doll taking a disturbing interest in her. At the same time, she has recently broken off a long term relationship and acquires a new Odd Couple sort of room-mate, a world traveller named Julie. As the investigation progresses and another young woman is attacked, Kit's lateral thinking consistently turns up new information that force the police to re-think their assumptions and to pursue new avenues. They just as consistently discount her ideas until forced to consider them.

The title comes from a nightmare that Dr. Quinn has about a terrifying red room, based on her first bloody encounter with Michael Doll early in the book. Kit is a vulnerable but persistent heroine who walks through a maze of terror and danger into her own red room, in search of the truth about the young runaway. She finds it in the end, after all sorts of surprising connections are revealed. I found The Red Room totally engrossing, a novel that I could not put down until the very last sentence.

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