Newest Review: ... 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 ... more
Until it's Over - Nicci French
Member Name: missrarr
Until it's Over - Nicci French
Advantages: Readable, widely available, typical "quirky" style of the genre from Nicci French
Disadvantages: Poor character on more than one protagonist, no real explanation behind the crimes it's based on
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.
Summary: Readable, but nowhere near French at their peak