cover image The Unheard

The Unheard

Nicci French. Morrow, $27.99 (464p) ISBN 978-0-06-313776-9

The anxieties of Londoner Tess Moreau, the narrator of this middling standalone from the pseudonymous French (the Frieda Klein series), about raising her inquisitive three-year-old daughter, Poppy, by herself ramp up after the girl spends a weekend with her father. Normally energetic, Poppy returns sullen, spouting profanities and repeating the word kill while showing her mother a crayon drawing that suggests violence. Tess goes into overdrive trying to figure out if Poppy witnessed a murder and wondering whether Poppy’s father, Jason Hallam, involved their daughter in an act of violence. Tess’s panic is augmented by her inability to forgive Jason, who, a few months after breaking up with her, married another woman, though he had claimed not to believe in marriage. As Poppy continues to act out, Tess goes to the police, convinced a crime was committed despite no evidence aside from a child’s drawing. The plot’s premise is solid, but the execution falls short, never rising above a good idea, hampered by weak, undeveloped characters. French (the husband-and-wife writing team of Nicci Gerrard and Sean French) has done better. Agent: Joy Harris, Joy Harris Literary. (Oct.)