Book Review: The Memory Game by Nicci French

Hello Readers,

Last week I finished reading the psychological-thriller, The Memory Game, by Nicci French.

The following review focuses on the book from a writing perspective, with less focus on the sequence of events/plot. Please note, there will be spoilers.

Before I begin the review, I’d like to mention that one of the first books that really moved me as a reader (and actually made me want to write my own novel) was the psychological-thriller called Beneath the Skin, by Nicci French. I had immediately been drawn to the dark and frightening ‘stalker’ plot, the closeness of the first-person point of view, and the ‘zoomed-in’ attention to detail in description – it had me gripped! This book had inspired me to read more Nicci French books, such as Safe House and The Red Room. However, although I enjoyed reading these books, they never did have that packing punch that Beneath the Skin had delivered to me.

This led my mind to think about something completely different – why does a book become a bestselling book or even a classic? May be there is some kind of universal magic that bonds us all. For me, Beneath the Skin would have to be a Nicci French classic – but then is it a universal book, would it speak out to us all? This is something we can all consider in our own writing if we are aiming for the bestseller lists. We have to dream big!

The Memory Game is Nicci French’s first novel, which was released in 1998 – and this is clearly evident from the writing. It is full of old-fashioned dialogue and slow-paced writing which I found rather author-lazy and off-putting to read. When we think of thrillers we think of fast-paced, edge-of-our-seat, twisting plot-lines – but this book was very much the opposite. The beginning was long-drawn out, and introduced too many characters at once, leaving me confused, annoyed and foot-tappingly anxious. I understand that the practice of introducing characters can be a useful tool when we want to create a murder-mystery set-up (such as in Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie) but it does not work in this book. The big cast of characters caused me to focus on the ‘family tree’, which is one of my big pet hates in fiction. The character’s should be weaved in effortlessly, and introduced to us in a way in which we will remember them and how they are related. In this book it was a case of ‘who is this character again?’ It was made even more irritating due to the fact that some of the characters did not play any real part in the plot – they could have been axed without any real effect – this is a big flaw in novel writing. Writing books constantly tell us to axe characters that are merely just extras or side props with no purpose. Even a minor character needs to push the plot forward in some way – whether it’s by them prompting a plot action, or through dialogue with the main character (to show another side to the main character) etc. There is also a big risk of losing a reader for good when the author does not set up an emotional lead character bond early on. I find that readers do not want numerous characters that we only get to know on a superficial level. You will find that the only time this method works best is in the plot-driven ‘who-dunnit’ mystery or suspense novel – where the big question is raised, and our intrigue is held. I have come to learn that we must fall in love with our characters early on – we must have an emotional attachment, or a similarity with which we can relate in order for us to care and read on. Unfortunately, this book and it’s characters left me bored. So why did I finish it? Well I have gathered that you can learn a lot from books you dislike and learn all of the sins and bad habits that you would never want to include in your own writing.

Nicci French has a terrible habit of giving her characters food and drink addictions – and she throws these over us like confetti when it is really of no importance. In this book it tends to happen in those moments when we are plot focused, wanting answers and actions – and all we are given is a character’s burning desire for a skinny mocha or latte, whilst they suck on a yellowing Marlboro. The character habits are repeated too much in this book, and the habits only really needed to be hinted at once or twice to give us an idea of the lead character’s personality. Readers are intelligent and will remember the habit the first time around. Repetition such as this can also show us that a book may have surpassed several, crucial, editing stages. If any one happened to re-read this book, then these flaws would have been clearly evident and likely been removed.

Personally, I love psychological fiction and traumatised characters, because it is in these types of characters that we learn about the darker sides of humanity; we learn how the weakest of characters can pull through a nightmare situation. The most interesting part of the book happened to hit on the area of psychology – with the psychotherapist and the lead character undertaking sessions, in an attempt to get the character to face her problems (the trauma of her missing school friend – who is later found dead – and the murderer having been a family member – ending spoiler!). The psychotherapist prompts the main character to talk out her feelings while all along we are wondering if she is hiding something that is the bigger answer to the bigger question in the book – what happened to Natalie?

I was very disappointed with this book and found it boring to read. I don’t like to put works of fiction down, because I do admire any one who manages to write even one novel in their lifetime, however this book just wasn’t cutting it for me. However, there are some good reviews of this book on Goodreads, and one person’s hate is another person’s love! So please don’t let my judgement put you off reading the book. Nicci French (wife/husband pseudonym) is an excellent writer, and we must consider the fact that this is their first novel.

Ironically, even though this is one of the worst books I have read, one of my favourite books (as mentioned above) happens to be ‘Beneath the Skin’, and I highly recommend this book to readers who love a psychological-thriller. It takes pride of place on my bookshelf.

Until next time,

Thanks for reading,
Donna x


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28 thoughts on “Book Review: The Memory Game by Nicci French

  1. M. Aamir says:

    Thanks for the review of The Memory Game by Nicci French! Have not had a chance to read of recent, but if I’m correct there was the book What to Do When Someone Dies By Nicci which was adapted to TV in 3 parts, Without You starring Anna Friel. I loved that! : )

    • Yes you are correct…I actually have What to do when someone dies, on my bookshelf but I am yet to read it. There is no doubt Nicci French wife and husband make a great writing team…it’s a shame that The Memory Game made me feel this way. Have a great weekend 🙂

  2. authoraamir says:

    Reblogged this on authoraamir.

  3. milliethom says:

    I’m totally intrigued by this review, Donna. I love the way you’ve highlighted points that make the book disappointing to you as well as what makes a plot treally tick. I’d be interested in reading this one, if only to see if I agree. As you say, we all have different views on what makes a good story and good characters. But from the reviews you’ve written before, I would trust your opinion. I’ll certainly add it to my TBR list – which I’m slowly working my way though. 🙂

    • Hi Millie. Thanks for reading my latest review. Unfortunately this one was not quite as inspiring as others I have written. I am very conscious of putting out bad reviews, but it lightens the load when I hear that other readers, including yourself, are willing to put my thoughts aside and choose to read the book. It would be wonderful to hear what you think of it too…and to see if you spotted good and bad bits in the book that I failed to mention. How are you finding The Minuaturist? 🙂

      • milliethom says:

        I always enjoy your reviews because you look at books from different angles, including from a writer’s perspective. With this one, I liked the way you compared it to later works of the author(s). It’s good to know what constitutes a good plot to you, as well as memorable characters. As a new writer myself, it’s all grist to the mill. It would be interesting for me to do the same, but that all depends on time. So I don’t put your thoughts aside – they are what interest me. 🙂
        As for The Miniaturist, I really enjoyed it and will review iat as soon as I have time! 🙂

      • Thank you Millie, I’m glad my reviews inspire. It is amazing how every novel has individual strengths and weaknesses, even when they are written by the same author. I am always surprised by how each book I have read has led me to new thoughts and ideas. It triggers the desire to read more and more, but as you say, time isn’t always on our sides 🙂 So glad you enjoyed The Miniaturist…such an intriguing novel.

      • milliethom says:

        I love reading your review, as I said, and will read them as long as you post them. I know you’re a writer yourself, so your views on novels are really interesting. I want to read the Nicci French one now, but I’ve a couple to get through first. And I agree that The Miniaturist is an excellent novel. I hope to do the review soon, but I’m so behind
        with a lot of things after a week without the internet. A real pain that was! I’ll stop moaning about it … eventually. 🙂

      • Thanks for supporting my writing, Millie. I’m glad you got your internet back. It’s amazing how important they are for writers now 🙂 I shall look forward to reading your view and will certainly continue to enjoy your other writing and posts too. Have a wonderful day.

      • milliethom says:

        Thank you – you, too, have a great day.

  4. annepm2015 says:

    I challenged you! Please go to for more details. As always, you are under no obligation to participate.

  5. Great review and helpful for readers; I find what some like another dislikes and it says a lot of where a reader may be in his own life. I have been reading lots of Kindle freeby thrillers…the first is free (which is often the best read) and then I purchase a few others or the complete series because I enjoyed the writing so much. That said, I am stumped with one writer now, Jo Robertson, who drags on in Book 2, The Avenger about so many details that for a thriller I find annoying and yes, foottapping and sighing out loud. It is like watching a sequel of a movie that never should have been made.

    • Thank you so much. I often feel bad for giving books a bad review, but we have to be true to ourselves as writers…and most importantly, be open to the fact that my opinion might be completely different from another person. I haven’t read any Kindle books yet…but you have given me an idea to check out the freebies! 😀 Isn’t it funny when that foot-tapping starts whilst reading a book…it must be the slow pace of plot and dragging on with description as you say. In these moments I have often wanted to slam the book closed…but these days I am persevering as I am learning new things from this process 🙂

      • What has stopped me from turning my Kobo or Kindle many times is the writing is sometimes really good! I love the metaphors and literary style even though not condusive to thriller, I still appreciate it. I prefer ereaders when travelling to work on public transit and when I finish a book `en route`I don’t panic because there is always another to read on the Métro and bus.

      • It’s good that you always have a back up reader for your different routes. I haven’t yet bought any electronic reading devices, though one day I will have to invest as my bookshelves are piling high 🙂

  6. namelessneed says:

    Thanx for sharing yr thoughts/ I’m ordering “Beneath The Skin”

  7. colonialist says:

    An interesting and penetrating review. Too many unimportant characters … the objection to this can be part of the lazy reading, fast-food, preferences which have set in – also symptomized by the aversion to adverbs. Still, they can be violently overdone. A whodunit gives one excuse; another I use in my own writing is the reintroduction of some unexpected characters in a major role, and the cameo appearance of others so as not do draw undue attention to them too soon.
    From what you describe, this book should have worked. Strange that Nicci French somehow lost that edge shown earlier. I have often seen writers go from strength to strength until they finally relapse into pot-boilers, but not too many start with a bang and continue with whimpers.

    • It is quite a difficult task to weave characters into stories, without highlighting the as the culprit. One book that I did read which managed this superbly was ‘Death on the Nile’ by Agatha Christie. The characters were introduced and perfectly woven, so to keep me guessing…and I believe it is in the genius of the plot weaving that solves the difficulty of this obstacle in writing. You are correct, it is unusual to start great then drop…but besides this book, she had written some great novels 🙂

      • colonialist says:

        Mind you, I always theorised that Agatha Christie decided who had dun it when writing the last chapter!
        It will be interesting to see if the next book of this author returns to full strength.

  8. colonialist says:

    I would suggest, though, that the earlier book was superior. More and more, lately, there is the emphasis on having a novel moving almost at the pace of a movie – and losing a great deal thereby. The more leisurely approach leads to a far more memorable read, in the end, for those who have developed the patience and taste for a longer and more subtle presentation. Much the same applies to music – does one really want to remove various development and diversion sections from a symphony? Carry that to excess and you have yet another forgettable pop tune.

    • Yes there are definitely trends in genres and in the pacing of novels. I wonder if this evolves as the human brain evolves. We read much more now than we ever have due to the technology in our lives…and I think it is definitely an era of speedy does it! The majority of us want quick snippets of information in our every day, whereas many of us want to escape into another detailed world. It’s all very interesting.

  9. Thanks for the review. It does seem like this one has some issues; I was also disappointed with Red Room for (seemingly) similar reasons. Safe House was a page turner, though. I was captivated with its portrayal of trauma and how that tied into the suspense. My favourite has still been Losing You. It had the ability to suck me in emotionally. I fear Nicci French might be a bit of a hit and a miss author for me but I’ll never stop picking up their books! I’m adding Beneath the Skin to my to-read list right now. You sold me.

    • Hi shyla. I think we might well enjoy the same books of Nicci French, because I also liked Safe House. I was interested in staying with the characters and the plot in this book. I will be sure to read Losing You, as I trust your judgement on this. I agree, French is definitely a hit and miss author. I am also reading a book by Minette Walters and I am beginning to feel the same. The sculptress was brilliant yet The Scold’s Bridle is dragging towards the end…but I will stick with it as there are only two chapters left. Let me know what you think of Beneath the Skin 🙂 Thank you for your comment. Best Wishes 🙂

  10. Following you from my book blog:,

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