In The Favor, their 16th standalone psychological thriller after The Unheard (2021), the married writing duo behind Nicci French, Nicci Gerrard and Sean French, speculate on how long a friendship can last, what it can survive, and what you can still expect to ask of a long-lost friend.
Jude Winter and Liam Birch were a Shropshire lass and lad, romantic adolescents with seemingly forever ties and future plans. From childhood, Jude was on track to be a doctor; medical school in Bristol seemed assured after the results of her final exams. Liam was not as focused, his scores not as certain. He was “good with his hands...could fix almost anything and he could pick up a pencil and in a few strokes create something vivid, startling.” He was also sometimes volatile and violent.
They may have seemed mismatched, but after meeting at a party they became inseparable—until a two a.m. joy ride in Liam’s rusty old Fiat with friends Yolanda and Benny in the back seat upturned all their lives. Though no one was seriously injured and there were no fatalities when their car crashed, everyone involved suffered long term. Liam ghosted Jude for 11 years.
Jude went on with her plans, specializing in geriatric medicine in the casualty department of a London hospital. She moved on from Liam, planning to wed Nathaniel Weller, a public health project officer in Lambeth.
Then Liam resurfaces with a seemingly simple entreaty: drive his ancient Honda “with a bag of stuff in the boot” to Springs Cottage, an Airbnb in Norfolk. Meet him there on Saturday, return on Sunday. For old times’ sake, out of lingering obligation, Jude agrees to the favor.
Liam claims he is not asking her to do anything wrong. Yet, his only proviso is that Jude can tell no one, not even Nat. When Jude gets a call from Inspector Leila Fox with news of Liam’s violent demise, Jude’s life is sent into a tailspin and she finds herself embroiled in the tangled web of a murder investigation.
As Inspector Fox proceeds with her professional investigation, Jude decides to start her own inquiry. It engages her with Liam’s significant other, Danny Kelner, a tattooist, and their year old son, Alfie. She also encounters a motley crew of squatters sharing Liam and Danny’s dreary home.
Jude’s initial behavior seems foolhardy, but a bombshell of a revelation brings to light motivations and truths previously kept in the dark. The intense plot culminates in an eye-opening surprise conclusion that underscores the fact that while a physician’s calling is to save others, sometimes the most important task is healing oneself.