Fiction – paperback; Penguin; 380 pages; 2009.
Proving that you should never judge a book by it’s cover (because surely this is the dullest cover I’ve seen in a long while), Until It’s Over is another fine psychological thriller by the husband-and-wife writing team of Nicci French.
Set in London, it tells the story of Astrid Bell, a cycle courier, who survives a nasty accident in which her bicycle slams into the open door of her neighbour’s car. Nothing particularly strange there, but the next day her neighbour is found dead, savagely beaten and hidden behind some garbage dumpsters, and immediately suspicion falls on Astrid.
When, several days later, Astrid is dispatched to a client’s house to collect a package from a wealthy woman, such suspicion is ratcheted up a few knots. Why? Because Astrid attends the house only to discover the woman lying face down in the hallway, her face disfigured by ugly knife wounds.
The police immediately assume Astrid is the culprit, because she is the only obvious link between the two murders. And then, just as Astrid’s pleads that it is nothing but a co-incidence, someone else to whom she is linked turns up dead…
Unlike French’s latest offering, the somewhat implausible What To Do When Someone Dies, which I read last month, this one rings very true. It’s set in a house share in Hackney, North London, and French has peopled it with believable characters, all of whom could be the likely culprit.
As ever, Astrid is a typical French character, a confident young woman with everything to live for, who suddenly finds her life taking a dramatic, dark twist: someone is deliberately killing people she knows, either to scare her or implicate her, and there seems little she can do about it.
What I didn’t expect as I ploughed through this novel, anxious to discover the ending, was the sudden switch in narrator half-way through. French has done this before — in her 2005 novel Catch Me When I Fall — but this time it feels especially creepy, because now we begin to see events through the eyes of the killer. Initially, I found this change in point-of-view slightly jarring, but the narrator’s voice is so chilling and believable, that it soon came to pass. It does mean that most of the narrative is re-told from the murderer’s perspective, but this is no boring rehash of the storyline: you get to see exactly how — and why — the murders took place, and it’s not what you might expect.
The ending is suitably dramatic, too, and after such a slow build-up of tension over the previous 300-plus pages is it any wonder I felt a little wrung out by it all. This is a terrific thriller, and if you’ve not read any Nicci French before it’s a good a place to start as any.