The 7th Woman by Frédérique Molay is a thriller featuring Chief Inspector Nico Sirsky of Paris’s top criminal investigation unit (available for the first time in English on October 23, 2012).
A cover blurb on this book compares it to the movie Seven, which is very apt. This book has the same kind of tension and climax found in that film as well as the definite sense of noir. The 7th Woman is a French novel originally published in 2006 and recently translated by Anna Trager.
The story centers on Nico Sirsky, who is head of the Paris Criminal Investigation Division, known as the brigade criminelle. At 38, he’s very young for a job with so much responsibility but he has an uncanny knack for getting to the heart of a crime and quickly finding the guilty party.
Instead of the usual mayhem and murder that occurs in the opening of many novels like this we find Nico visiting a doctor due to an unexplained abdominal pain. He is immediately taken with her and finds himself lost in her beauty and presence. It’s a delightful scene that makes you hope something more than the scheduled endoscopy comes from this meeting. Dr. Caroline Dalry leaves Nico thinking of her hands on him in more than a medical nature.
Nico goes from the doctor’s office to the scene of a brutal murder. A young woman has been tied up, tortured, and her body mutilated. Even the experienced detectives feel ill at the macabre scene, and it gets worse when they realize this is just the first victim.
Author Frédérique Molay does a superb job of building the suspense in overt and subtle ways. The book opens with “Monday,” and we soon learn the killer has plans to kill seven women in seven days, which creates a horrifying anticipation at police headquarters as the elite detectives scramble to find clues.
Don’t pick this book up unless you’re planning to read for a while because, I assure you, you won’t be able to put it down. I read it in two days, even carrying it with me for errands in case I had a free minute to get lost in it. It’s a beautifully written book with everything a mystery reader craves.
Our tough, capable police chief is also a sensitive man who loves the women that surround him. They include his overprotective sister, his wise mother, and the astute women who work the murder cases with him—the medical examiner, a detective, and the psychological profiler. He is also a dedicated father who adores his 14-year-old son, Dimitri, and is worried about his depressed and suicidal ex-wife.
Molay manages to put an amazing amount of content into each day of this book, showing the inner thoughts of the police and occasionally giving readers a glimpse of the twisted mind that is planning and carrying out these horrific crimes. Still, she’s very frugal with words and it’s not a long book at all.
This scene gives you some insight into the intrepid police chief:
“It’s nearly midnight, Nico,” his sister said, sounding worried. “Are you still working?”
“It’s been a hard day. I’ll be going home soon.”
“You could have let me know what the doctor said.”
Her maternal tone amused him. Tanya was two years younger than he was, yet she had a protective attitude toward him. What would he do without her?
“I’m really sorry, but I didn’t have time.”
“In any case, I know exactly what she said. Alexis talked to Dr. Dalry.”
Dr. Alexis Perrin was his brother-in-law, first of all, and on rare occasions, his general practitioner.
“What about doctor-patient privilege?” he asked, trying to get her angry.
“You can complain all you want to Mom,” she said in a teasing voice.
Their mother, Anya Sirsky, was Russian. Her parents had fled their homeland in 1917, and she took pride in her roots. Still, she had married a Sirsky, who was Polish, even though he had lived in France for quite some time. Her Russian ancestors must have turned over in their tombs when she married a Pole! She was tall and thin, with long blond, nearly white hair, a strong personality and acting skills in the purest Slavic tradition. She could shift from laughter to tears in seconds. Anya loved Griboyedov, Pouchkine, Lermontov and Gogol and could recite entire passages written by her favorite authors. All his life, Nico had listened to her do so in the slightly gravelly voice that was distinctly her own. Nico smiled affectionately at this mention of their colorful mother. She could have been a character in a novel.
“At least call me on Wednesday, when you have the results of the endoscopy. Don’t forget that I’m your sister, and it is normal that I worry about you. Who else would bother?”
Tanya never missed a chance to hassle him about his bachelorhood.
“Do you know Dr. Dalry?” he dared to ask, trying to sound detached.
“She went to medical school with Alexis, and they’ve stayed in touch. Why?”
“No reason? I doubt that. First of all, I know you, and you generally don’t waste your time asking meaningless questions. Second, you are my brother, and I am still waiting for you to show some serious interest in a woman.”
“Tanya, your imagination is way too active. I just wanted to make sure I was in good hands.”
“The best. You know Alexis. For that matter, are you free for dinner on Thursday?”
“Sure. But please spare me the latest young woman you’ve found for me to meet.”
His sister let out an exaggerated sigh.
“Promise,” she said, adding a hint of defeat. “Now get home and go to bed. And call me on Wednesday.”
Nico returned to his home on the Rue Oudinot in Paris’ seventh arrondissement. He opened the blue porte cochère between the French Overseas Territories Ministry and the Saint-Jean Clinic. A garden in the middle of the city opened before him. A few ivy-covered homes with flowers lined a small private alley. In the distance, you could see the Montparnasse Tower all lit up. Here, he was in the very heart of the capital, and yet there was no noise. He would never have had the means to pay for this without the inheritance from his father. By means of hard work, intuition and certainly a bit of luck, his family had made a fortune in trading, and he had often lent a hand. This had allowed him to do the police work he loved without any financial constraints. The day he could no longer put up with the intense demands of his job, he could leave the police and live comfortably.
This book is a beautifully woven tapestry, and I’m sure I’ll read it again just to catch the little nuances I missed the first time. I thoroughly enjoyed it and when I discovered the writer had written three books about Chief Inspector Nico Sirsky, I decided to definitely look for the other two.
On a side note, Anna Trager, who has lived and worked in France for more than 20 years decided there were too many good books limited only to those who read French and founded the company Le French Book to translate them to English. If this book is any indication, her knowledge of French fiction is quite good, and I hope she keeps it coming!
You can read this book anytime and be frightened. It won’t take a dark and stormy night because the horrific crimes here were committed in the light of day. Have I scared you yet?
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Leigh Neely is a former newspaper and magazine editor. She currently does freelance work, blogs at womenofmystery.net, and recently wrote the short story, “A Vampire in Brooklyn,” which is in the anthology, Murder New York Style: Fresh Slices. She and her writing partner, Jan Powell, recently sold their paranormal novel, Second Nature, under the pseudonym Neely Powell.
Read all posts by Leigh Neely for Criminal Element.