Frances Fyfield is now universally acclaimed as one of this country's finest crime writers, with a depth of psychological understanding quite the equal of the previously unassailable duo of PD James and Ruth Rendell. The intense and expressive quality of her prose illuminates narratives that both celebrate traditional storytelling values and explode them. Undercurrents may well be her most disturbing work yet. In the past, some male readers may have been discomforted by her recurring preoccupation with male violence against women, but Henry Evans, the protagonist of this novel, is the perfect conduit for both the male and female reader into a truly mesmerising narrative.
When Henry was backpacking around India some 20 years before, he encountered the beguiling Francesca Chisholm. Francesca's father died, and Henry's reluctance to alter his travel plans obliged her to leave without him. For all of his adult life, he has regretted this decision, and finally resolves to travel to the English coastal town of Warbling (the name is the book's only miscalculation) to track her down. But Henry is in for a shock. It's a very wet February, and his hotel is flooded, so he is obliged to stay at a strange alternative hostel. The solicitor who has traced Francesca suggests that he regard her as dead but Henry persists. He discovers that Francesca has confessed to killing her five-year-old son, drowning him in the sea. She is imprisoned and the case appears to be closed. But is it? Henry decides to find out precisely what happened. And his scarifying odyssey into the dark night of the soul--both his and hers--is something he finds himself unprepared for.
Fyfield adroitly presents her protagonist with an implacable mystery--but the solving of this mystery is no mechanical trick, as it so often was in the golden age of crime fiction. The journey Henry undertakes will change him forever, and the insights into the troubled Francesca's psyche are as rich and profound as anything in literary fiction. As always with this author, the characters are fastidiously created, and the taut structure of the plot is accentuated by the relative brevity of her narrative. Some may wish for a longer book, but there isn't a wasted word here, and anyone in doubt as to Fyfield's position in the pantheon of English crime writing should not hesitate.