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~The Courier of Doom~
Astrid Bell never particularly intended to be a bicycle courier, a lycra clad road warrior zapping along London's streets serving the urgent delivery needs of the city's wealthy professionals but somehow several years after starting the job she's still on her bike. Then one evening as she heads home, in fact within sight of her front door, a neighbour opens her car door into Astrid's path sending her flying over the handlebars and onto the tarmac. The bike is battered and so is Astrid. The neighbour is effusive with her apologies but all Astrid wants is a hot bath and a few painkillers. Next day the bin men find the body of her neighbour, beaten and strangled, lying hidden behind the dustbins. The police - as you might imagine - want to know all that Astrid can tell them since she may well be the last person to have seen the woman alive. Make that the second to last person - the killer must have got there after Astrid.
'Until It's All Over' by Nicci French follows Astrid's story and those of her housemates, the six other young people who share a scruffy house in an increasingly down at heel London suburb. The neighbours think the area has gone to the dogs, there's a nasty housing estate nearby, youths wander the streets late at night making a nuisance of themselves, and nobody really knows or speaks to their neighbours any more.
~Is Coincidence ever REALLY just Coincidence?~
To get caught up in one murder investigation is unfortunate; to get caught up in two is positively careless so when Astrid's work puts her on the doorstep of a second dead woman, the same police who grilled her about her neighbour's death are quick to make the connection - even if Astrid herself knows of none. The police reflect that the only other time that one person was on the scene of two killings, that person was the murderer. Astrid knows she didn't do it - we readers know she didn't but how can she explain being in the wrong place at the wrong time - twice over? As the cover blurb asks "if it's true that bad luck comes in threes, who will be the next to die?" Who indeed?
I still remember reading Nicci French's first novel though I've long ago forgotten the name, the plot or the characters. It was at a time in my life when I was reading a lot of 'murder mystery', a phase from which I've largely moved on. These days there are few such writers for whom I'll make an exception and dip my toes back into that genre. Nicci French, Kathy Reichs and (now and then) Minette Walters are the few I'll still happily pick up in a charity shop or as a swap on Readitswapit.co.uk but I wouldn't go out of my way to buy them at full price. These are excellent flying books - the ones I read on short flights where the 'turn off electronic equipment' restrictions make my Kindle unwelcome. I usually read Nicci French and then pass the books onto a colleague in Germany who struggles to get books in English and seems willing to read whatever I wave in her direction.
Nicci French is not a writer - it's two writers, husband and wife partnership Nicci Gerrard and Sean French. I have no idea how they manage such a collaboration but most of the books are pretty seamless and I don't have any sense of reading two different people. I've recently been reading a co-authored book about Indian history in which I soon became deeply irritated by the two writing styles but there is nothing about this book which would suggest it has more than one author. 'Until It's Over' is structured in two parts. The first part is presented from the point of view of Astrid and takes us through a series of murders and up to the arrest of the killer. The second half is the same story told through the eyes of the person who killed. I cannot rule out that each of the author's wrote a different part but I have no reason to think it was done in that way.
~Did I care?~
Astrid is an interesting character. At times she's deeply in control yet every now and then she lets down her guard and gets overcome by lust for one of her housemates, a man she doesn't actually like very much. The housemates and communal living arrangements are very believable within the context of the London setting. The cost of housing so often forces people to live with convenient strangers or pseudo friends long past the point at which people of their age in any other less expensive city would have bought a place, moved on, got responsibilities and (dare I say it) grown up. Having seen friends stay in this semi-infantilised state of house sharing through their thirties and even into their forties, I could believe the setting. When the housemate who owns the property wants his girlfriend to move in - and his housemates to move out - things get entirely believably nasty. I was reminded of the fantastic 1990s sit-com 'This Life' which hooked the whole nation with the dysfunctional relationships of a bunch of flatmates, some young professionals, others in more manual work.
The revelation of the killer half way through came as a bit of a shock since I hadn't realised I'd be getting a 'his and hers' approach to the story. However, quite early in that second half we realise that things really aren't as simple as they seem. Even though we spend most of the second half of the book knowing who killed the women, we're still treated to the step by step revelation of the hows and whys of the killings and eventually the full 'reveal' comes right at the end. It's cleverly done.
I hate plots that rely on stupid twists at the very end and leave me feeling cheated (that's a Minette Walters trait - take the reader right to the end and then reveal something without which we had no way of ever guessing the killer) but this is one where you only need to pay attention in order to follow the logical progression of the plot. All the various elements, all the things which seemed inexplicable in the first half, cleverly and conveniently click into place as the cogs turn towards the conclusion.
The police are treated with a light touch. They are respectful and respectable, don't jump to conclusions and go out of their way to try to understand the housemates and judge them on evidence and not just on their character flaws. Astrid is perhaps a rather manly heroine in many ways - not by any means your classic female protagonist but a woman with a physical strength and a resilience that's quite inspiring.
The killer is a low down, manipulating little worm - just as he should be. There are good and bad characters, kind and cruel, cartoon cut outs of some of your stereotypical nightmare flat share monsters and most are only partially what they appear to be. Everyone has secrets, each has fears and most have reasons to not especially welcome the police crawling over their home.
Nicci French does (or do - depending on whether you treat them as one or two people) a great job of coming up with something fresh for each of their novels, yet maintaining a dark undercurrent of violence and manipulation that characterises their style. I long ago gave up on most of the murder serial writers and the 'here we go again, line up the bodies' churners of such fiction but I will continue to put Nicci French on my bookshelves, even if I rarely choose to keep them in my collection once they've been read.
Until It's All Over, Nicci French
Husband-and-wife writer team Nicci Gerrard and Sean French were on the top of my list when I recently did what I had vowed to do for months and join my local library.
I finally did so, in an act that had feelings of rebellion, indulgence in childhood memories and my ongoing enthusiasm for supporting community-benefiting establishments such as libraries and independent high street traders, recently when on holiday. I actually had that thing that you need to read a book - TIME. So I joined up and recently, with giddy, retro glee, I left with my bag bulging with books.
In the part of London I work in there is an Oxfam bookshop. The day before my first trip to the library with the intent to take out actual books, I popped in on the way home, my bookworm tendencies recently having been rekindled in a big way. I found a copy of Until It's Over by Nicci French - the "author" being one I have read a lot of - and the blub on the back cover intrigued me. I nearly paid my £1.99 to charitable causes, but being on such a tight budget that I often feel like one myself, I held back. The next day I checked this out of my local library back in Northamptonshire, and eagerly started to read.
I've written about this before and I'm not going to bore people by reiterating it to the Nth degree. Nicci French and Sean Gerrard write together as one, and have been amongst the most popular crime thriller writers of the last decade or more.
This is one of their more recent efforts.
Astrid Bell is a bike courier in London. She lives in a slightly unusual house share in an area of London that is both hanging on to it's nearby rough roots but also, as so many places in the capital have, being tagged as the new buzz in the property market. Owned by her friend Miles, the house was initially home to Miles, Astrid and lawyer Pippa, all friends. Over the years the number of housemates rose to allow Miles to pay the mortgage, with the townhouse eventually becoming home, on the basis of cheap rent, amiable house-sharing and chipping in with maintenance and bills. Seven people ended up living in those walls.
Astrid is late for a house meeting and we meet her as she, talking in first person, describes herself caning it on her bike to get home in time. A nearby neighbour, from a neighbourhood where nobody is truly a neighbour, just a familiar face, opens her car door at the wrong moment and, caught at the height of her momentum, Astrid goes flying, landing on the London street outside her house. The apologetic neighbour is joined by two of Astrid's housemates as they oversee the incident, and those two - Davy and Dario - take charge of her and guide her into the house.
That night Miles, a previous boyfriend of Astrid, announces that his girlfriend Leah will be moving in - at the expense of everyone else moving out. The relationship between the housemates is instantly put under a new stress, but they have no idea what will come after a chain of events begin the following day - when a body is found near the house.
Connected to the murder victim purely by the incident involving a car door, Astrid is shaken enough, but the killing looks like a mugging gone wrong; surely something to do with the local youths from the parts of the area that haven't yet become part of the cultural and social upward mobility of the area. But when Astrid takes a call to pick up a package from a wealthy woman in another part of the city and finds her brutally murdered, the coincidence becomes something that cannot be ignored.
Added to the already fraying relations in the house - a dynamic of seven people plus one "outsider" constantly moving from and towards both new intimacy and hostility - the situation becomes a meltdown of emotions and arguments. Is the connection between two deaths just a sickening reminder of the possibility of coincidence, merely an incidental happening adding to an already fraught household, or is there worse to come?
***THE EXPERIENCE OF THE READER***
Part One is told, as is so often true of French novels, by the protagonist - Astrid herself. She takes us through her accident, her reaction to it, also that of learning that the home she had shared for so long soon would not be hers any more. She recounts the shock of finding the second victim, a rich, flawless woman with whom she shared no connection other than that of hired courier.
Her account takes us to the next twists in the story, before Part Two begins - and we are introduced to the killer.
I am glad I didn't spend £1.99 on this book.
There, I've said it.
I have noticed that French's recent works have left something lacking with me. Initially a new take on the genre, attempting to recreate that novelty has, for me, left something crucially amiss.
I hate to rip an author's work to pieces and some of you may enjoy this. French's open, flowing characterisation and first-person narrative is there for Astrid at least, and clearly by design less so for the murderer.
However, I did not enjoy this book. For all I found it gripping, I kept waiting for something to impress and surprise and shock me. But I've now finished this book and it never happened.
Firstly, I don't really think that the Part One and Part Two section worked. We see some of Astrid's previously described situations told from the perspective of the killer. We learn who they are quite early in his section, but the motivation behind his sadistic tendencies is not really explained by the brief account of their youth. It felt textbook, unimaginative and didn't explain the motivation in a way that satisfied me as a reader.
Even when the killer explained taking their victims, they did not seem sure of why they were doing it. Maybe this was a plot device, but if so I feel it failed. There seemed no true trigger causing them to kill, other than...opportunity. And even then they didn't truly seem that bothered.
The housing situation could be explained in a student scenario but it didn't wash with a bunch of professionals and a few oddities and individuals who had yet to find their path or place. So this also was unfortunate, and I found that there were too many people involved - enough between the housemates and associated people to give cover to the killer but too many for this book to give each of them enough credibility to justify their place.
I can't fault the style of writing but for me the plot and characterisation of this offering from French just can't come even close to earlier works such as Beneath The Skin, and on top of this I found both the conclusion and the epilogue to be abrupt, lazy and not just poorly explained but devoid of commitment and closure.
Therefore, sadly, I have to reflect my decreasing enjoyment of French's modern work with a low rating. Having read so much of their earlier work, it almost pains me to do so, but this is one book I know I will never revisit.
COST: £2.49 new - Amazon. Kindle available.
When I was looking around my Bookshop last week I was conscious that I had not particularly enjoyed a crime novel in a while. So I decided to remedy this I must select an author I had confidence in and one I had always enjoyed there work. This brought me to Nicci French, I have read about half a dozen of their books and never had a bad experience so I decided this must be the book to improve my mood and help me see the beauty in a crime story again.
==Synopsis of the book:==
Astrid Bell is an unusual lady. Firstly there's her name, secondly there's her occupation. She is a cycling courier for a small company. This keeps this twenty something, attractive lady very busy and it is a job she has done for over two years and in the main enjoyed, despite taking it as a stop gap job to tide her over for a few weeks.
In her time as a cyclist whizzing round London she has heard of many accidents that have injured her colleagues. She so far has been lucky, so the last thing she expects when in sight of her home is to find herself flying through the air and landing in the middle of the road. As a parked car door suddenly opens and Astrid in unable to avoid crashing into it.
Luckily two of her house mates are on hand to help her and she isn't badly hurt. With just cuts, bruises and grazes to deal with. The neighbour, Peggy Farrell is very apologetic and promises to pay for any damage to the cyclist bike and Astrid still dazed by the accident says she will take her up on this. However a few days later Peggy's body is found by the Refuse Collection Team by her bins and the Police quickly called as she has been murdered. They work out she was killed in the evening she kit Astrid with her car door and now the Police want to talk to Astrid to find out the background to this and if she had anything to do with her murder.
==My thoughts on the novel:==
I think out of all the Nicci French thrillers that I have read this is probably the weakest. However, that is not to say I did not enjoy it, as I did but not as much as the other ones they have written. I think for me the fundamental problem was the authors wrote this story from two different perspectives. This for me would have been fine if they where simultaneous,but no one was from Astrid's view point and one from another House mate. So Astrid's story came first and she told how she saw what had happened, then we had the same story told through this other house mates eyes.
It is clear to me why the authors choose to do it this way and it was good to see this second view point that cleared up a lot of the mystery. As by doing this you where given more detail about this person and their past. I just felt it could have been written as an ongoing story as frankly I did not want to go all over the same thing again. To me this was the biggest mistake and it made what could have been an excellent book just a good one.
When referring to the author above I have already used the plural. That is because Nicci French is a pseudonym for the husband and wife writing team of Nicci Gerrard and Sean French. I find this concept of writing amazing as I think it is hard enough for an individual to write a thriller that all the loose ends are dealt with, it must be so much hard when it is coming from two brains!! Although in this one I suggest that one writer wrote Astrid's story while the partner wrote the other perspective. Regardless of this they have written a dozen well thought out crime stories that make the reader think and try and work out the answers themselves and are usually written in such a way there are always clever unpredictable twists to the story.
When I decided I wanted to read an author I knew and liked I scanned the Nicci French shelf. Here I found this book. I immediately liked the title and I do for a change think it was a very apt title for this story. I flicked it open and looked at the summary. This was three short paragraphs long but I liked the concept behind it of this courier having an accident and the lady who caused it suddenly found dead and Astrid in effect being the last person to see her alive. So I purchased it and looked forward to getting into it and discovering what it was all about.
My patience is not good and within half an hour of getting the book home I was curled up on the sofa starting it. I found the story very easy to get into and I immediately took to Astrid as the main character as she was so down to earth. The story was very easy to read like all Nicci French books and I found in no time I was well into the story and enjoying what I was reading. Initially there was no mystery, but as soon as Peggy Farrell had been murdered there was plenty and this continued and escalated as the story unfolded.
At this point I was really enjoying what I was reading and the very clever developments that for me where completely out of the blue. I could not see who other than Astrid could be responsible for what was happening. As despite her living with six other people in the house, who all had their separate and varied lives I could not see a motive for the killing. But knowing the authors as I do it was clear there would be more clever twists to what was happening.
The book reached a critical point just after half way and I couldn't wait to see what would happen next. Although I did think a lot had already happened I wasn't sure how the author could top what had already happened without it becoming a bit of a farce. It was at this point the story went and followed this second character and retold what you already knew but from fresh eyes. This as I said earlier was the big let down and although I still found it interesting, I knew what was going to happen and I felt the authors gave the answers away far too early in the book so the mystery and suspense went and all that was left with was how and why it was done.
That said it was always well written and the story flowed really well. I felt they really got into the heads of the two main characters and explained their thoughts and actions superbly. With a conclusion to the story that was surprisingly simple but made perfect sense based on what you had read previously.
Astrid for me was the main character and I immediately took to her because she was very down to earth, honest and likeable. I found her easy to understand although I did struggle with her relationship with Owen, for me that seemed a bit out of character. I liked the way she interacted with all the other House mates and the author really seemed to understand her and this came through to the reader in sharp descriptions of the scene she was in and her thoughts on it.
For me some of the beauty of this book was the range and quality of its support characters. I have purposely not gone into the other lead character but they where certainly as interesting as Astrid as this would give too much away. The house mates where all so different some open, some secretive so that you never really knew who was being honest and where they holding back an important secret from everyone. I really enjoyed when they go together as funny things often happened and the House sale scene was most amusing.
I am sure some will disagree with my opinion on this book and think because of the approach it was wonderful but for me being a big thriller fan the answers where arrived at to early in the story and in a way I did not need to read the last third of it. That said when I did have all the answers they made perfect sense and I liked the way the authors had come up with them.
On this occasion I find it difficult to quote on the length of the book because I think it should have been done differently. In many ways because of the House mates all being so colourful and intriguing I would have liked more scenes involving them but would that have detracted from the thriller itself? In hindsight I think the length was probably right for the approach the authors took as I did enjoy everything I read and found what I was reading easy to follow but still asking the reader to think and try and work the solution out, I certainly didn't until later in the book!!
I would recommend this as a good thriller if only to see if my views are shared with other people. Although I would certainly had preferred the two characters viewpoints be shared as the story unfolded not start with Astrid and then the story has nearly finished go back to the start from another House mates perspective. Other than that I really enjoyed it, it was well written without being too complex it is the type of story that I feel you can get out whatever you choose if you want to deep story you could follow the clues and try and think of the answers or you can enjoy and just follow the story without thinking too much of the who and whys/
Price: 4.41 new at Amazon
Year of Publication: 2009
Thanks for reading my review.
This review is published under my user name on both Ciao and Dooyoo.
© CPTDANIELS May 2012.
This is the second novel which I have read by this Husband/Wife team Nicci French.
It is another crime psychological thriller and it is a book which you will not be able to put down.
The open chapter begins with the introduction of the main character Astrid Bell who delivers packages round London as a Courier on a bike.It can be quite risky when you travel on a bike accidents can happen and she felt sooner or later she will be involved in an accident. That is what happened when Astrid was returning home one day almost to her home when a car which was parked had its door wide open and she was knocked off her bike. The lady who owned the car was very sorry and said she would pay for the bike. Astrid housemates came out to see what had happened and helped her back into the house.
Then I read on and started to get to know the other characters of the book Astrid's housemates.
Miles who owns the house came back that eveing and broke some shattering news that he asked them all to leave because his girlfriend called Leah and himself decided to live together . After the bad news about the fact that they had to move certain things happen. particularly to Astrid. Was she the one that murdered Margaret Farrell who left the car door open and caused the accident of Astrid falling off her bike, then she collecting a parcel from a very wealthy lady and when Astrid arrives there discovers after no one came to the door. Astrid then peered into the letterbox and discovered a body lying on the floor.
The police then got involved after the first murder of the lady who had caused the accident of Astrid who collided into the car door while she was riding her bike.
This was only the start of a living nightmare for the housemates.
There was a new arrival to the house was he the person he said he was he did seem to fit in but was that an acted.
The relationships with all.the characters in the house and how they are with each other and their sadness when they had to leave the house. You could feel their sadness in parting as you read.
Then reading the epilogue and Astrid returning once again to the house in Maitland Road which was now up for sale did she want to buy it or was there too many bad memories of what went on there.
This is a well written crime story keeping you in suspense in who actually did the murders right to the end.
This was the first book I've read by Nicci French. I've held out on reading anything by her for a while as her books don't seem like anything special. I'm a huge fan of the crim fiction/thriller genre's and when reading the synopsis for many of her books they just seem too 'simple' or light hearted. I don't think this book has turned me into a fan of Nicci French, I'm not in a rush to run out and get any of her other books, but I did slightly enjoy reading this.
-About the Author-
Nicci French isn't actually a single author but actually a husband and wife writing team of Nicci Gerrard and Sean French. They married in 1990 and have written 11 novels together from the 1997 novel 'The Memory Game' to the latest 2009 novel 'What To Do When Someone Dies.' However they still do write seperately, and Nicci is a journalist for the Observer.
Until It's Over is largely written from the mind of Astrid Bell who works in London as a cycle courier, delivering anything and everything on a pedal bike around the city. The book quickly starts with her cycling along in her own street when a woman opens a car door which she collides into and lands smack on the pavement. From here we are introduced to her housemates who are all interesting characters living a student esque lifestyle in the same house. We then find out the woman who opened her car door is found dead in her garden, this is just the beginning as later in the book Astrid happens to be involved with another 2 murders. The police don't believe this is coincidence and tell Astrid that someone who is obsessed with her must be doing the killings. Meanwhile the household start falling out and throwing accusations around and it get's a bit messy.
Alot of small points annoyed me with this book. We meet Pippa, a housemate and one of Astrid's closest friends. She has a different man in her bed every night and doesn't care. I can't understand why a lawyer in London would be living in a household where it's almost a student household, and also behaving like a student! It just seemed a little too unbelieveable. When the police come around questioning housemates and Astrid there is no advice at all from Pippa the lawyer, it just seems like strange idea to have made that character have the profession of a lawyer.
The household also consists of Miles, who owns the house, and his girlfriend Leah who is pretty much hated by the whole house. There's also Davy the newest member of the house, Dario who doesn't pay rent but pays in kind of doing botch jobs on the maintainence in the house. There's also Mick who you don't really learn much about, and Owen who is a photographer and is pretty quiet.
I guessed early on in the book just who the killer was. It was very blatant to me and I actually wondered if it was going to be one of those tricks where at the end it wasn't them after all, but I was very disappointed at the end when it's written to be a big surprise to the reader... but the slightly 'hints' dropped in earlier in the book really weren't very 'slight' at all! I don't know if this is common with Nicci French books but it has put me off reading another, I like to be surprised and have to be guessing and just who done it.
It seems alot of the book was wrote around how the housemates live and act and their arguements and just who is sleeping with who, and the crimes themselves thrown in without much thought. If you like a good detailed crime fiction it probably isn't for you as it's just too easy to guess.
I did slightly enjoy this book, it was a very easy read, but I won't be rushing out to get another Nicci French book anytime soon.
Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Penguin; Export Ed edition (5 Mar 2009)
Available on Amazon for £3.99.