The Red Room

The Red Room

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by Nicci French

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At the request of London police, psychologist Kit Quinn agrees to evaluate Michael Doll, a sexual predator who slashes her face. As she recovers, Kit has horrible dreams of a red room. Months later, Doll is arrested for murder. As Doll's obsession with Kit escalates, Kit is gripped with a paralyzing fear that the killer isn't Doll—but someone close to her

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At the request of London police, psychologist Kit Quinn agrees to evaluate Michael Doll, a sexual predator who slashes her face. As she recovers, Kit has horrible dreams of a red room. Months later, Doll is arrested for murder. As Doll's obsession with Kit escalates, Kit is gripped with a paralyzing fear that the killer isn't Doll—but someone close to her heart.

Editorial Reviews
If Kit Quinn feels used, she has some justification. First, this forensic psychiatrist discovers that her boyfriend is two-timing. Then her picture-perfect face is cut by a malcontent stranger. And then, as if to add insult to injury, the police pressure her to help them wrap up a pesky case by fingering the lacerating young delinquent as a ruthless killer. Her own scars aside, Kit Quinn refuses to buckle and begins her own investigation. Another exquisite literary knifing by the author of Killing Me Softly.
Library Journal
Psychologist Grace Shilling, heroine of French's popular Beneath the Skin, is back. She's not looking for trouble in fact, she is overwhelmed by images of the dead women who as a police consultant she still was not able to save but then the police hand her a tough new case that is not what it appears to be. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Another strong, vulnerable, beset young heroine; another brilliant thriller from French ("Beneath the Skin", 2000, etc.), who now has to be considered a major player. It's hard not to like pretty, well-meaning psychologist Dr. Kit Quinn, though some are certainly willing to give it a try. Detective Chief Inspector Oban, for instance, anoints her "the most bloody-minded woman" he's ever had to work with. That being said, however, he admires the quirky/dazzling quality of her insights. Which is why he asks for her help in the matter of Michael Dall, the no-account he'd like to nail for a bothersome unsolved murder. Hoping to augment flimsy circumstantial evidence, Oban wants Kit to profile Dall as dangerously unbalanced, a potential menace to society. He is that, Kit believes, but not the perp for this particular crime, inconvenient as that may be. Oban huffs and puffs but finally backs off, huffs and puffs some more when Kit's digging unearths additional inconvenient matter. Three murders previously regarded as separate and distinct might well be linked. If they are, then the police have a serial killer on their hands, with all the inevitable and unwelcome attention that implies. Increasingly captivated by Kit (in an avuncular sort of way), Oban gives her free rein, as impressed by her talent as he is dismayed by her unorthodoxy. Another reluctant admirer is distant, misanthropic Will Pavic, who runs a kind of halfway house for runaways and hates the world for its crimes against them. Despite himself, he's drawn to Kit. And she's drawn to Will, though there are times when she can't quite rule him out as the case-in-point serial killer. Not as unnerving as French's flawless "Killing MeSoftly "(to be released as a movie in October) but stylish and engrossing nonetheless.

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Chapter One

"And I said, 'Yes, yes, I do believe in God,' but God can be the wind in the tree and the lightning in the sky." He leaned forward and pointed at me with his fork, this man who I wasn't going to be going home with at the end of the evening, and whose phone number I would lose. "God can be your conscience. God can be a name for love. God can be the Big Bang. 'Yes,' I said, 'I believe that even the Big Bang may be the name for your faith.' Can I top you up?"

That was the stage of the evening that we'd arrived at. Six bottles of wine among eight of us, and we were only on the main course. Sloppy fish pie with peas. Poppy is one of the worst cooks I know. She makes industrial quantities of unsuccessful nursery food. I looked across at her. Her face was flushed. She was arguing about something with Cathy, waving her arms around overemphatically, leaning forward. One of her sleeves trailed in the plate. She was bossy, anxious, unconfident, perhaps unhappy, always generous—she was throwing this small dinner party in honour of my recovery and my imminent return to work. She felt my eyes on her and looked my way. She smiled and looked suddenly young, like the student she'd been when I met her ten years ago.

Candlelight makes everybody look beautiful. Faces around the table were luminous, mysterious. I looked at Seb, Poppy's husband, a doctor, a psychiatrist. Our territories bordered. That's what he had once said. I'd never thought of myself as having a territory, but he sometimes seemed like a dog patrolling his yard, barking at anyonewho came too close. His sharp, inquisitive features were smoothedy the kind, guttering light. Cathy was no longer brown and heavy but golden and soft. Her husband at the other end was cast into secret shadows. The man on my left was all planes of light and darkness.

"I said to her, 'We all need to believe in something. God can be our dreams. We all need to have our dreams.'"

"That's true." I slid a forkful of cod into my mouth.

"Love. 'What is life without love?' I said, I said,"-he raised his voice and addressed the table at large-" 'What's life without love?' "

"To love," said Olive, opposite me, lifting her empty glass and laughing like the peal of a cracked bell. A tall, dark, aquiline woman with her blue-black hair piled dramatically on top of her head. I've always thought she looks like a model rather than a geriatric nurse. She leaned across and planted a smacking kiss on the mouth of her new boyfriend, who sat back in his chair looking dazed.

"More fish pie, anyone?"

"Is there someone in your life?" murmured my neighbor. He really was quite tipsy. "Someone to love?" I blinked and tried not to remember. Another party, another life away, before I'd nearly died and come back to life as a woman with a scar bisecting her face: Albie in a spare bedroom in a stranger's house, with someone else. His hands on her strawberry-pink dress, pushing its straps off her shoulders; her creamy breasts swelling under his hands. Her eyes closed, her head tipped back, the bright lipstick smudged. He said, "No, no, we mustn't" in a drunken slur, but let her anyway, slack and passive while her fingers unreeled him. I had stood there on the landing, gazing in, not able to move or speak. There are only so many things one can do in sex, I thought then, watching this tableau; all the gestures we think are our own belong to other people too. The way she rubbed her thumb across his lower lip. I do that. Then Albie saw me and I thought, There are only so many ways you can catch your lover with somebody else. It seemed unoriginal. His lovely shirt hung loose. We had stared at each other, the woman lolling between us. We stared and I could hear my heart beat. What's life without love?

"No," I said. "Nobody now."

Poppy rapped her knife against her glass. Upstairs I heard a child shriek. There was a loud thump on the ceiling above us. Seb frowned.

"I want to make a toast," she said. She cleared her throat.

"Hang on, let me fill the glasses."

"Three months ago, Kit had her terrible...thing...."

My neighbor turned and looked at my face. I put up my hand to cover the scar, as if his gaze was burning it.

"She was attacked by a madman."

"Well...." I began to protest.

"Anybody who saw her in that hospital bed, like I did, what he'd done to her ...We were desperate." Drink and emotion made Poppy's voice wobble. I looked down at my plate, hot with embarrassment.

"But nobody should judge her by appearances." She blushed with alarm and looked at me. "I don't mean know." I raised my hand to my face again. I was always doing that now, the gesture of self-protection I hadn't managed at the time."She may look gentle, but she's a tough, brave woman, she's always been a fighter, and here she is, and on Monday she returns to work, and this evening is for her, and I wanted everyone to raise their glasses to celebrate her recovery and...well, that's it, really. I never was good at making speeches at the best of times. But anyway, here's to darling Kit."

"To Kit," everyone chorused. Glasses, raised high, chinked across the debris of the meal. Faces glowing, smiling at me, breaking up and re-forming in the candlelight. "Kit."

I managed a smile. I didn't really want all this, and I felt bad about that.

"Come on, Kit, give us a speech." This from Seb, grinning at me. You probably know his face or his voice. You've heard him giving opinions on everything from serial killers' motivations to toddlers' nightmares to the madness of crowds. He compliments and smiles and does his very best to make me feel good about myself, but really, I suppose, sees me as a hopeless beginner in his own profession. "You can't just sit there looking sweet and shy, Kit. Say something."

"All right, then." I thought about Michael Doll, lunging across the room, hand upraised. I saw his face, the glint of his eyes. "I'm not really a fighter. In fact I'm the opposite, I-" There was a loud howl from upstairs, then another.

"Oh, for God's sake," said Poppy, rising in her chair. "Other children are in bed at ten thirty, not beating each other up. Hang on, everybody."

"No, I'll go," I said, pushing back my chair.

"Don't be daft."

"Really, I want to. I haven't seen the children all evening. I want to say goodnight to them."

I practically ran from the room. As I climbed the stairs, I heard footsteps pounding along the corridor, and little whimpers. By the time I reached their bedroom, Amy and Megan were in bed with the covers pulled up. Megan, who is seven, was pretending to be asleep, though her eyelids quivered with the effort of keeping them shut. Amy, aged five, lay on her pillow with her eyes wide open. A velvet rabbit with shabby ears and beady eyes lay beside her.

"Hello, you two," I said, sitting on the end of Amy's bed. In the glow from the night-light, I could see that there was a red mark on her cheek.

"Kitty," she said. Apart from Albie, they were the only people I knew who called me Kitty. "Megan hit me."

Megan sat up indignantly. "Liar! Anyway, she scratched me, look. Look at the mark." She held out her hand.

"She said I was a bird-brain."

"I did not!"

"I've come to say goodnight."

I looked at them as they sat up in their beds with their tousled heads, bright eyes and flushed cheeks. I put a hand on Amy's forehead. It was hot and damp. A clean smell of soap and child's sweat rose off her. She had freckles across the bridge of her nose and a pointed chin.

"It's late," I said.

"Amy woke me," said Megan.

"Oh!" Amy's mouth opened in a perfect circle of outrage.

Downstairs I could hear the hum of voices, the scrape of cutlery on china, someone laughing.

"How shall I get you to go to sleep?"

"Does it hurt?" Amy put out one finger and poked my cheek, making me flinch.

"Not now."

"Mummy says it's a shame," said Megan.

"Does she?"

"And she said Albie's gone." Albie had tickled them, given them lollipops, blown through his cupped hands to make owl noises.

"That's right."

"Won't you have babies, then?"

"Ssh, Amy, that's rude."

"Maybe one day," I said. I felt a little throb of longing in my belly. "Not yet, though. Shall I tell you a story?"

"Yeah," they said together, in triumph. They'd got me.

"A short one." I searched around in my mind for something usable. "Once upon a time there was a girl who lived with her two ugly sisters and ...

A joint groan came from the beds. "Not that one."

"Sleeping Beauty, then? Three Little Pigs? Goldilocks?"

"Bo-o-ring. Tell us one you made up yourself," said Megan. "Out of your own head."

"About two girls..." prompted Amy.

"...called Amy and Megan ..."

"...and they have an adventure in a castle."

"OK, OK. Let's see." I began to talk without any idea of how I was going to continue. "Once there were two little girls called Megan and Amy. Megan was seven and Amy was five. One day they got lost."


"They were going for a walk with their parents, and it was early evening, and a great storm blew up, with thunder and lightning and winds howling round them. They hid in a hollow tree, but when the rain stopped they realized they were all alone in a dark forest, with no idea of where they were."

"Good," said Megan.

"So Megan said they should walk until they came to a house."

"And what did I say?"

"Amy said they should eat the blackberries on the bushes around them to stop themselves from starving. They walked and walked.

They fell over and scraped their knees. It got darker and darker and lightning flashed and big black birds kept flapping past them, making horrible screeching sounds. They could see eyes peering at them from the bushes ...animal eyes."


"I don't think there were panthers in that-"

"Panthers," said Megan firmly.

"All right, panthers. Suddenly, Megan saw a light shining through the trees."

"What about-"

"Amy saw it at the same time. They walked towards it. When they reached it, they found it came from an oil lamp hanging above an arched wooden door. It was the door to a great ruined house. It looked scary, a spooky place, but by now they were so tired and cold and frightened that they decided to take a chance. They rapped on the door, and they could hear the sound echoing inside, like the beat of a drum." I paused. They were silent now, their mouths open. "But nobody came, and more and more big black birds screeched around them, until there was a dark cloud of birds in the sky. Black birds and flashes of lightning, and rumbles of thunder, and the branches of trees swaying in the wind. So Megan pushed hard on the door and it swung open, with a squeaky creak. Amy took the oil lamp from the entrance, and together the two little girls went into the ruined house. They held hands and stared around.

"There was a passageway, with water running down the walls. They followed it until they came to a room. It was painted all blue, with a cold blue fountain bubbling in the middle and a high blue ceiling, and they could hear the sound of waves crashing on the shore. It was a room of water, of oceans and faraway places, and it made them feel that they were further from home than they had ever been before. So they walked a bit further and came to another room. It was a green room, with ferns and trees in pots, and it reminded them of the parks they liked playing in and made them feel more homesick than they had ever felt before. So they walked a bit further and came to a third room. The door was shut. It was painted red. For some reason they felt very scared of this room, before they even opened the door."

"Why?" asked Megan. She reached out a hand and I clasped it in my own.

"Behind the red door lay the red room. They knew that inside this room was everything they were most afraid of. Different things for Megan than for Amy. What are you most scared of, Megan?"


"What about being high up?"

"Yeah. And falling off a boat and dying. And being dark. And tigers. And crocodiles."

"That's what was inside the red room for Megan. And Amy?"

"Amy hates spiders," said Megan gleefully. "She screams."

"Yeah, and poison snakes. Fireworks exploding in my hair."

"OK. So what did Megan and Amy do now?"

"Run away."

"No, they didn't. They wanted to see inside. They wanted to see those tigers and boats and crocodiles-"

"And poison snakes-"

"And poison snakes. So they pushed open the door and they went into the red room, and they looked around and it was red everywhere. It was red on the ceiling and red on the walls and red on the floor."

"But what was in it?" asked Megan. "Where was the crocodiles?"

I paused, nonplused. What actually was in the room? I hadn't thought of this bit of the story. I toyed with the idea of a real live tiger that would eat them both.

"There was a little stuffed tiger," I said. "And a stuffed crocodile."

"And a stuffed snake."

"Yes, and a little toy boat and there was a lovely food to eat and a big lovely soft bed. And Megan and Amy's parents. And they tucked them up in the bed and gave them a big kiss and they fell asleep."

"With a night-light."

"With a night-light."

"I want another story," Megan said.

I leaned down and kissed two grumpy foreheads. "Next time," I said, backing out of the room.

"Tailed off a bit at the end, I thought." I started and looked round. Seb was smiling at me. "Where did you get it from? The Bruno Bettelheim collection of bedtime stories?"

He said it with a grin, but I answered him seriously. "It was a dream I had in hospital."

"But I don't suppose there were toys and a warm bed in your red room."


"What was there?"

"I don't know," I said. I was lying. I felt my stomach lurch at the memory of it.

Later, I refused the offer of a lift home from my drunken friend who believed God was the Big Bang, and walked the mile from Poppy and Seb's to my flat in Clerkenwell. The cool, damp wind blew in my face, and my scar tingled faintly. The half-moon floated between thin clouds, above the orange street-lamps. I felt happy and sad and a little bit drunk. I'd made my speech-about friendship helping me through, all of the trite, true phrases about valuing life more now-and eaten apple crumble. Made my excuses and left. Now I was alone. My footsteps echoed in the empty streets, where puddles glinted and cans rattled in gateways. A cat wrapped itself around my legs then disappeared into the shadows of an alleyway.

At home, there was a message on the answering-machine from my father. "Hello," he said, in a plaintive voice. He paused and waited, then: "Hello? Kit? It's your father." That was it.

It was two in the morning and I was wide awake, my brain buzzing. I made myself a cup of tea-so easy when it's just for one. A bag and boiling water over it; then a dribble of milk. Sometimes I eat standing at the fridge, or prowling around the kitchen. A slice of cheese, an apple, a bread roll past its sell-by date, a biscuit munched absentmindedly. Orange juice drunk out of its carton. Albie used to cook huge elaborate meals-lots of meat and herbs and spices; pans boiling over; strange misshapen cheeses on the window-sill; bottles of wine uncorked at the ready; laughter rolling and swilling through the rooms. I sat on my sofa and sipped the tea. And because I was alone, and in a maudlin kind of mood, I took out her photograph.

She was my age then, I knew that, but she looked ludicrously young and long ago. Like a faraway child; someone glimpsed through a gate at the end of the garden. She was sitting on a patch of grass with a tree behind her, wearing frayed denim shorts and a red T-shirt. The gleam of sunshine was on her, dappling her bare, rounded knees. Her pale brown hair was long and tucked behind her ears, except for a strand that fell forward over one eye. A moment later, and she would have pushed it back again. She had a soft, round face, sprinkled with tiny summer freckles, and gray eyes. She looked like me; everybody who had ever known her always said that: "Don't you look like the image of your mother? Poor dear," they would add, meaning me, her, both of us, I suppose.

She died before I was old enough to keep her as a memory, though I used to try to edge myself back through the foggy early years of life, to see if I could find her there, on the bleached-out edge of recollection. All I had were photographs like this, and stories told to me about her. Everyone had their own versions. I had only other people's word for her. So it wasn't really my mother I was missing now, but the impossibly tender idea of her.

I knew, because of the date my father had written punctiliously on the back, that she was already pregnant, though you couldn't tell. Her stomach was flat, but I was there, invisible, rippling inside her like a secret. That's why I loved the photograph: because although nobody else knew it, it was both of us together. Me and her, and love ahead. I touched her with my finger. Her face shone up at me. I still cry when I see her.

Excerpted from The Red Room by Nicci French. Copyright © 2001 by Nicci French. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Red Room 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have read most of Nicci French's books and loved them, however this one was not quite as interesting to me as the others. I found it quite slow and boring and it didn't have much of an ending.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Red Room was full of suspense, unending twists and turns, and a great surprise ending. The reader and the main character are one and the same. I highly recommend this book and everything else this author has written. She get's better with each new book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Red Room is very good. In her characters, French taps into the human essence with skill and creativity. French is a new author for me and I'm glad I found her. I'm going to buy her other books as well.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I must admit that I am a big fan of Nicci French so I am sure it wouldn't matter what book she wrote I would read it and love it anyway. The Red Room is a great book and keeps you awake until the end.
harstan More than 1 year ago
The Stretton Green Police ask Market Hill Hospital for the Criminally Insane and Welborn Clinic Dr. Katherine ¿Kit¿ Quinn to evaluate Michael Doll. Parents have complained about the seemingly disturbed young male hanging around elementary schools and since he has a bit of a record for exposure, the police want a professional psychiatric opinion. However, in front of DI Furth, Michael smashes a mug and uses a sharp piece of glass to carve up Kit¿s face.

A few months later, Kit is out of the hospital having physically recovered except for a scar, but suffers nightmares from the assault. When DI Furth asks for her help with the murder investigation of a female teenager in which Michael is the prime suspect, a reluctant Kit agrees because she knows she must ¿humanize¿ her demon. Perhaps if Kit knew what is in store for her with this case, she would have said no and preferred to lived with her demonizing Doll.

THE RED ROOM is an exciting psychological thriller starring a great lead character psychologically suffering from the aftermath of the brutal attack by Michael. Kit knows she must confront the evil she has painted on the face of her attacker. Once she succeeds in de-demonizing her assailant, Kit still cannot let go of the case as her need to do the right thing propels her to continue to work on the investigation. It is her character that turns Nicci French¿s tale into an absorbing chiller that never allows the audience to catch their breath.

Harriet Klausner