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Beneath the Skin - Nicci French

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Author: Nicci French / Genre: Crime / Thriller

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    8 Reviews
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      06.09.2012 16:06
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      A gripping read that represents some of an author's best work

      Brace yourselves, people, for here be another review from "The Commuter Files" - in other words I got so fed up of being forced to travel in the company of others that I decided to lose myself in books again. There might be a few of these coming up in the near future....

      ****THE BOOK?***
      The book is Beneath The Skin by Nicci French, a book I have had for so long that the sides of the pages have long been yellow and I can say for sure I have read it at least twice with gaps in between sufficiently long that I can be sure I will be surprised by some forgotten twist, scene or detail to make it worthwhile.

      It looks like, on Amazon basis, this has been reprinted with new covers a few times, but surprisingly without digging quite deep I can't find any new copies from Amazon directly, so this is going back a bit. Three books came out under the author's name before the release of this in 2000.

      ***THE AUTHOR?***
      Nicci French, who doesn't actually exist - it's a combination of the names of husband and wife writing team, Nicci Gerard and Sean French.

      Before it became commonly known that these two were writing as a team, their books were an interesting twist on the crime thriller genre, often given a very personal (usually female) perspective of victims of sometimes horrific crimes. Coupled with an interesting and flexible approach to writing styles, including in the first person of the victims, this was an attractive writing style and for a short time I remember "Nicci" being quite hot property in the crime thriller market.

      ***THE PLOT?***
      Chaps, imagine you're a woman. Women, imagine you're yourself. One day a curiously hand-delivered note falls into your world. It's cryptic, personal, and written by hand by someone who claims to want to kill you.

      How do you feel? What do you do?

      Even more than that, what do you do when you're the first to receive it? You're the one who has to make first contact with the police, cope with the unnerving feeling, tell yourself that you're probably perfectly safe when you're riddled with doubt. And when they keep coming, you've got to convince people to take it seriously when you're caving in inside.

      That's what starts to happen when Zoe Haratounian receives such a note after a random act of heroism during a street mugging. But initially the very police who claim to have a photo of her on their office wall in honour of her bravery can't take her worries seriously when the notes start arriving - assuming it's just one of the many harmless loons who have been sending her "fanmail" ever since.

      But those letters dry up. The notes don't. And French (I'm going to refer to the author as one person for the sake of ease!) brilliantly portrays Zoe's struggle to deal with the scenario into which she is forced.

      The story is told first-person, starting with Zoe, then moving on the next woman to receive the notes, then the third. Each are markedly different women, but have come to fascinate the man stalking them with the intent to kill, a character we are sometimes allowed to see an insight to with his own first-person thoughts on women as he watches them in a baking hot London summer.

      One woman is a wealthy housewife redecorating a luxurious London home, bothered rather than comforted by the police presence in her life and generally irritated by the whole thing, more concerned about how much it is annoying her husband, who she admits probably no longer loves her, a womn who treats her entire life with a clinical efficiency.

      Another is a strong, slightly directionless children's entertainer, whilst initial victim Zoe a primary school teacher who feels trapped in a grotty London flat she wishes she had never bought, with a transient bunch of friends. There's no obvious connection, partly because these women would never have interacted and partly because of clever placement of confusing evidence by the stalker sending the letters, then also in a later twist, when there finally appears to be one connection through pure chance, it comes to nothing.

      The narrative switches from Zoe, then in turn to the next people targeted by this anonymous writer, and we see their reactions grow in different ways as his communications become more threatening, personal and graphic.

      ***AND IN THE INTERESTS OF AVOIDING SPOILERS...***
      ...that's about as much as I can tell you! So on to the experience as a reader.

      I love this book. There is a reason I have come back to it more than once. It is clever in that it is told by not just three main characters but in places also by the man who wants to kill them. The shocking, gripping element here is not in the gruesome, bloody murder as seems the case with every similar effort in the genre trying to out-shock one another with increasingly imaginative and sickening ways of ending human life.

      The scary thing here is the psychology. The terror, or the ignorance of the potential victims. One lacking element is that there is no real explanation for the motivation or cause thereof regarding the perpetrator, but one thing that I sadly think would be very true is particularly evident in Zoe's story, the sheer, and vain, effort required in persuading the authorities that the threat to her life was real and terrifying. Sadly, I suspect that if you're going to attract the attentions of such a stalker, you're far better off being one of the later victims.

      I devoured this book, again, in about three days of commuting. I recall being unable to put it down before and sure enough, the same was true this time. The characterisation was strong and each woman was believable, with the connection between the perpetrator executed well enough to make it believable.

      In short? A top class thriller from the fictional Nicci French. Having read later efforts, I think the initial novelty of the writing style wore off and also the ideas were not as fresh, but this is the "author" writing at their full strength and on the top of their game. If you're tempted to pick up a copy, remember this is still from an era so recent yet still before Skype, iPhones, iPods, Facebook and Twitter, a short era of social networking and technological development that has sadly already relegated so many good recent books to feeling outdated, but it is still a great read for any fan of the crime thriller genre.

      ***AVAILABILITY*
      This seems to no longer be available new on Amazon but can be bought new through sellers from £6. It's also got a Kindle version.

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        11.12.2009 13:20
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        Good gripping novel

        I fell upon this author by chance as I was given the book a few weeks ago.
        I started reading the book and got as far as the second chapter and decided it wasnt really my cup of tea but decided to give it another go when I was desperate for something to read.

        The book follows the victims of a stalker/murderer in a way where you feel you actualy begin to really know these women.
        The women are all different but have all been noticed by one very dangerous person who starts his terror campaign against them by sending letters.
        The letters are not taken seriously by the police at first but when events take a turn for the worse they soon realise they have a serial killer at large.
        The boo is split into three chapters each telling the seperate stories of three women.

        I really got into this book after the first few chapters and found myself relating to the characters.
        You will find yourself thinking the letter writer is almost every character in the book.
        Great read I will be looking for more of Niccis novels could do with a break from the horror anyway.
        360 pages of gripping stuff.
        £1.61 with free delivery from Amazon U.K

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        20.03.2006 09:01

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        Suspense keeps you reading on from chapter to chapter.

        Another Nicci French success. I have no idea how these two husband and wife journalists manage to write such gripping stories together. It must be so hard working with your partner at times let alone write a book together. However they always pull it off. This book is about 3 totally different women living in totally different circumstances but having that one deadly link. Zoe a schoolteacher. Jennifer a lady of leisure almost. Nadia the free spirit who works in the pet shop.
        The suspicion moves from the gardner to the husband and maybe also to the young policeman who seems to have an unnatural interest in it;to the final killer.
        Cleverly written to keep you on your toes and trying to work out how these women let a killer into their house. Who do they trust that has betrayed them and eventually killed them? That is the mystery that is not found out until late in the book.

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        15.05.2005 19:39
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        I’ve always wanted to read a Nicci French novel for the sole fact that I went to a school with a girl with that name. And yes, she even spelt it the same way! Recently I found out that French isn’t a female author, it’s a husband and wife team called Nicci Gerard and Sean French. When describing ‘Beneath the Skin’, Nicci wanted to ‘scare people where they feel safest – their own home’. Did they succeed with KM? Let’s find out …

        * The story *

        Zoe has recently arrived in London to teach, amidst a scorching summer. She accidentally becomes a heroine when she witnesses a mugging, and having recently bought a watermelon for her schoolkids, she hits the attacker with her shopping and becomes headline news.

        Soon she is receiving ‘fan’ letters from people praising her for her bravery. But then the letters stop – all but one hand delivered one that is, which takes on a decidedly sinister tone. ‘Dear Zoe, When does someone like you, young and pretty and healthy, become frightened of dying? I am watching you. I am not going to go away’.

        Zoe throws the letter away. But that is not the end of it. Far from it.

        * What’s good *

        From the beginning this book draws you in. Peppered with paragraphs in italic writing, the reader is always aware that the anonymous man is watching Zoe, and this in itself is frightening as the detailed descriptions of her are told. ‘She gets weaker and smaller. I look at her and I think to myself, I did this’. One can almost imagine him smiling, knowing that he’s making her insecure and anxious.

        Also there are many possibilities of who the ‘baddie’ could be. Zoe is selling her flat and has many strangers flitting in and out – that and the fact she has an uncaring, fairly new boyfriend makes the suspect list fairly lengthy. Therefore Mack was not having an easy job of even trying to draw up a shortlist!

        Told in three parts, the sections are devoted to three women – Zoe, Jennifer and Nadia. The other two women also become targets for the would-be killer and each woman tells the story from her point of view.

        Zoe is the frightened one, the new girl in town. Jennifer is a wife and mother of three boys, hassled with her ongoing home renovations and receiving threatening letters isn’t part of her plan. Nadia, the children’s entertainer and some time magician, is the strong, resilient one, determined not to let the threats destroy her but to expose the person penning the poison letters.

        What links the three women together are the ongoing investigation team, whose tireless efforts promise to bring the stalker to justice – a man who has thrust himself into these three women’s lives and continues to harass them right under the nose of the authorities.

        * What’s not so good *

        Strangely, the ‘baddie’ is unveiled around half way through the book. I found this a little annoying as it almost made me want to stop reading. However I did continue until the end and I did enjoy the book, although this somewhat detracted from the element of surprise.

        To this end, the reader can easily see the ending coming from a million miles away and for someone who enjoys trying to figure out what’s what in a thriller, this definitely was a big no no!

        * Other books by Nicci French *

        Secret Smile
        The Safe House
        Killing Me Softly
        Land of the Living
        The Memory Game
        The Red Room
        Catch Me When I Fall

        * Other info *

        RRP £6.99 – play.com £5.49 delivered
        Paperback, 384 pages
        ISBN 0140281061
        Published by Penguin

        * Verdict *

        This is a taut thriller, cleverly executed with three strong central women characters. I liked the way in which it was written, from three different points of view and having little glimpses of the baddie thrown in teasingly every so often. It is a page turner and the suspense is kept throughout.

        As I am new to Nicci French’s writing (apart from seeing the film ‘Killing Me Softly’ which was based on one of their books) I would definitely choose another book by the partnership. I read this in a day while at my parents’ house so it was a free read. Chapters are split at frequent levels and it passed a few hours and kept me gripped from page one. I didn’t find it overly frightening – probably because the violence is kept minimal and tended to fade out to another chapter.

        I will take one star away for the strange decision of uncloaking the bad guy a tad too early. Overall it’s cleverly done but also fairly annoying as the reader feels that there’s ‘nothing left’ after this. There’s also a slightly pointless love affair which is over before it’s begun and only marginally distracts the reader into thinking something’s amiss. That was done a bit scrappily and didn’t really ring true –it’s designed to throw the reader off scent but doesn’t work!

        I wouldn’t place this particular book up there with the likes of Val McDermid, who really gets inside the killer’s mind, sometimes disturbingly so, or the fast paced action of a James Patterson novel. But overall if you like crime and thrillers, you’ll probably enjoy this. It does indeed get under your skin.

        Recommended.

        Thanks for reading.

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          13.07.2001 16:15
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          I bought this book in a blind panic, trying to catch a train, but suddenly realising I’d forgotten to bring my book with me. I’ve always got a book on the go and start a new one as soon as I finish reading the previous book. So I went into a tiny WHSmiths on a train station, frantically scanned the book shelves and ended up buying Beneath The Skin by Nicci French. I had read one of her books before and although not my usual reading tastes, I had enjoyed the read so thought I’d give this one a go. The book is divided into three parts, each of which deal specifically with one woman’s story. The book is basically a serial killer/homicidal psychopath sort of book, and it made quite a refreshing change to be reading a book set in Britain. My reading tastes normally see me in some anonymous American town, though I guess that’s my fault. After all I choose what I read! Back to the story – Zoe Haratounian is the first victim. She is an ordinary young woman who teaches small children for a living. She isn’t originally from London but since her family passed away she has lived on her own in a dingy little flat she felt obliged to buy with her inheritance so that she had a place to call home. The first part of the book goes into great detail about her life, her current boyfriend and her frustration with the estate agent who’s been trying to sell her flat for the last 6 months. At the same time Nicci gives you an insight into the killer’s thoughts. It’s plain that this person takes great delight in prying into every part of his randomly chosen victims life. The killer is portrayed as a deep thinker who is into detailed analysis of the victims from their actions and gestures. It’s quite a scary thought that there probably are people like this out there, and the chilling way in which this book has been written could well give you nightmares. After becoming an unlikely heroine due to pr
          eventing a mugging by swinging a watermelon at the mugger. Her picture and an article end up in the paper, and she inevitably receives sack-loads of post congratulating her on her bravery. Zoe starts receiving death threats, which are conveniently hidden amongst the stacks of other post. The police don’t really take the threats very seriously but as Zoe is all alone in a big city and only a few friends, she feels very vulnerable. The way she feels during this period is very well written and portrayed to the reader. After her death, the police obviously realise their error of judgment, and when another, seemingly random female begins to receive similar death threats written by the same hand, they are determined to catch the killer before he can kill again. Unfortunately they are unable to solve the case or even find any links between the murdered teacher and the mother with three kids who is renovating a house the family have recently bought. Again we get a detailed analysis of this woman, her life, her problems with her husband. Unlike Zoe, however, Jennifer is embarrassed about bothering the police. It’s probably nothing. Unfortunately that is not the case, and the police are still no nearer finding the killer, although they think they are. This is where the story starts to get a little twisty. Nicci throws a few red herrings in to make you think you know who the killer is and where the story is going. I was actually quite dismayed to read the part giving suspected killer a name. I don’t like being told this sort of detail only half way in. But it turned out my annoyance was wasted. In my opinion this confirms my belief that Nicci French is actually a very talented writer. I’m not sure anyone could have suspected the twists hidden in this book. Half the time you don’t even realise that you have been tricked into believing that you know the ending as you are so convinced that you’ve solved the plot that the bum
          bling police failed to work out. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good crime/thriller read and dare you to solve the plot or even anticipate some of the twists and red herrings. An excellent read, I thoroughly enjoyed it once I realised that my ‘disappointment’ at reading the conclusion half way through, was merely a result of being conned subtly by the author into believing what she wanted her readers to think. It just made the situation more disturbingly realistic and chilling. I’ve already read two of her books now and I shall certainly be giving her other books a try too.

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            11.05.2001 15:12
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            This book is about three women, Zoe, Jennifer and Nadia. The first women we read about is Zoe. Zoe is a 23 year old pre-school teacher. On the way home one day Zoe stops a bag snatcher by hitting him with a water melon. Zoe then obtains her 15 minutes of fame and is reported about in the newspapers. She starts getting letters from people, praising her, wanting her to join their faith, wanting money, wanting marriage, wanting to kill her... Yes threatening to kill her. In the letters the man sends, it gives intimate details of her life, details a complete stranger would not know... From there it gets worse, he draws a picture of her bedroom, explains how he has watched her sleeping. Then there is Jennifer. She is nearing forty. Jennifer lives in an £800,000 house. She is married and has three boys. At the moment Jennifer is renovating the house so the house is full of builders and decorators. Jennifer is an ex-hand model. She is beautiful and lives a pampered life style. Jennifer also starts to get letters threatening to kill her. Finally there is Nadia, nearly 30. Nadia has an unusual job entertaining children at birthday parties, acting the clown, juggling, making animals out of balloons. She has just split up with her boyfriend. Then she gets letters saying she will be killed. The only thing these three women have in common is the letters and of course the man who sends them. This is the job of the police, to find the common element. Who is the person who knows all these women and wants to kill them. This is a great boo and to quote many before my a real "page turner". This is one book that will keep you reading even though your eyes can hardly stay open and you are at home alone and getting scared. Nicci French has written this book through the eyes of four people. The three women listed above and the killer. This technique is fantastic as it give us
            the ability to see the differences in all of these women. What could be the common factor, as they are all so different. Then through the eyes of the killer, we get a small bit of insight and a couple of clues. A chilling book, I would recommend. Just make sure you are not home alone that night.

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              16.04.2001 22:14
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              Do you like Love Letters? Well after reading this book you may change your mind? Why? Read on. Another book about a serial killer are we not bored by this yet, detective stories seem to proliferate the bestseller lists and authors seem to cash in on this. Now do not get me wrong I like a good mystery, whodunit, what is going on etc, but you can have too much of a good thing. Well author, Nicci French, is a fairly well known name in the thriller section and has received quite good reviews. So I gave her a go. In this book the genre of thriller/mystery has been altered slightly, this is a tale of three women (Zoe, Jennifer and Nadia) stalked by the same man but addressed in a different way from the standard thriller; the book is almost written as three short stories, one for each of the hunted and as each story finishes you know more about the hunter. To call the villain of the book a stalker/hunter is not quite correct, he is a murderer, he toys with his victims, by sending them letters, love letters no less, but with a difference. In each letter he graphically tells the victim of what he wants to do with them and it always involves the death of the recipient. The police do not take the letters seriously with the first girl, but as the story progresses the police become more and more worried and more and more ineffectual as bungle after bungle clouds their vision of events. The terrifying point for the three women is how much he knows about them, what he notices and the detail with which he is surely watching them with. He sees these women as nobody else does, in complete detail, the habits, the posture, how well they shave their legs etc. Each of the three women has subtle differences, (although all live in the same geographical area), one is young, just starting out in life, the second a rich bored housewife and the third a women drifting without having found out what she wants or where she is going. Bu
              t these women are linked by the stalker, who takes pleasure in inflicting fear on them and watches as each life is destroyed by his work, before he gets to the bit he fantasises over, the killing. Does he kill all three? Will the police be of any help? Well you will have to read the book to find this out (or rather the three short stories, with the common theme.) So there is the plot, but what of the theme of the book. Well I suppose it explores the fear of being hunted, of having your character stripped down by a mad man, whom you cannot see, but sees you. What can you do, are you helpless? As each character’s short story progresses more about the hunter is revealed much like an onion being taken apart layer by layer. The book explores each woman in detail, her life, her desires and her own fantasies. What makes the book a break from the norm is the fact that it is written almost solely from the standpoint of the women (with occasional breaks in the story to reveal the thoughts of the hunter, to see how much pleasure he is getting from inflicting this emotional pain on the women, before he inflicts the physical pain.) So what do I think? Well the book is well written and not in the fast paced style that normally accompanies this style of book, at times the author lingers over revealing the details of each of these women’s lives. The book gathers pace with the stalking of the third woman and this is where it falls down. With the first two women, the author reveals the stalking piece by piece, amongst the normality of the woman’s lives. With the third woman, everything happens quickly and the book loses some of its previous depth. Then there is the fact that as a whodunit, or rather (who is writing the letters) the book reveals the culprit far too early, you are left knowing the end almost as soon as the book delves into the third woman’s torment. There is a twist at the end, but it has been hinted at
              throughout the book, and thus does not come as a shock. So, for the first two-thirds this is an excellent book, cleverly plotted, keeping you locked into the storyline. But it then falls down in the final third and I had lost interest some 30 or 40 pages from the end. This is a real shame as the style of looking at events through the eyes of the victim, rather than the person trying to solve the mystery is refreshing, but in the end I think the author ran out of steam and ideas and thus I ended up finding this a very average read. There is nothing terribly wrong with this book, but in a genre where there is so much to choose from there are better reads. But if you like thrillers and the like, I think you will probably enjoy this as a read, but do not expect a classic. Oh and obviously you will not want a love letter now. I paid £2.99 for this in paperback, its retail price is £5.99, but I am sure you can still find an offer. For those that hate long books it is 360 pages long.

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                31.07.2000 09:19
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                This is the new book by Nicci French. I got it on the first day of its release. From the first short-story excerpt that I read in a popular monthly magazine, I couldn't wait to read this book. The 2-page excerpts had me spellbound, so that I immediately wanted to read this book. From the moment I began reading, Zoe, Jenny, and Nadia captivated me. Each of their stories had me reading faster than I've ever read before. The suspense building around what is happening to them, the people involved in their lives, to awaiting the arrival of their daily mail, I couldn't put this book down - and didn't until nearly 24 hours after I began reading. I haven't read this good of a book in a long time. My only critiscism would be that we knew who the killer was far too soon, this is usual for Nicci French's book. The suspense could have been built up more if we hadn't known quite so early in the piece. Still worth 4-star!

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              • Product Details

                Three seemingly different and unrelated girls receive anonymous death-threats - can the police find the killer in time?