French, Nicci - 'Until It's Over'
Husband-and-wife team Nicci Gerard and Sean French provide a predictably involving and tense London-based thriller in UNTIL IT'S OVER. The first half is told from the point of view of Astrid Bell, a rather rootless young woman who can't decide what to do with her life since graduating from university, so she has become a bike messenger until she can decide. She's happy in her lifestyle, living in a shared house with Pippa, an old university friend; Miles, the owner of the house and an old flame of Astrid's; and assorted other tenants.
The action begins when Astrid has an accident on her bike, caused by an absent-minded neighbour opening her car door without looking. Shaken but not seriously hurt, Astrid is looked after by her housemates - but is shocked to discover later that the woman who caused the accident has been found dead by the dustbins outside her house. She's questioned by the police, but is relieved to get back to work - until she is asked to collect a parcel from a millionaire's house in Hampstead, only to find that the woman from whom she's to collect the packet is lying dead in the hallway. This time, the police interrogate Astrid far more forcefully, because, as DCI Kamsky points out, he's been a policeman for 28 years and has only once in that time found the same person to be involved in two crimes - and that person was the killer.
At the same time, the previously companionable atmosphere in the shared house has been shattered by Miles's girlfriend Leah, who has persuaded him to evict the tenants so that she and Miles can live alone in the house (and by implication raise a family there). Tensions mount, and hostilities are increasingly brought into the open as the tenants negotiate with Miles for money to move out, while at the same time needing the emotional security of their home base. The plot moves fast, climaxing in a third death which directly affects the whole cast of characters.
The second half of the novel is told from the point of view of the killer. At first I didn't think this worked very well, as the identity of this person seemed to have been plucked out of the air. The same events that took place in part one are re-told from the killer's perspective, which drastically slows the pace. However, as the pages turn, the tension begins to build again, particularly in the last couple of chapters.
If you've read Nicci French books before, you'll find this one well up to the usual standard - there are lots of nice touches and observations of London life which those who live there will recognise and enjoy. If you haven't read French before, this title would be a good introduction to the author. Even though some aspects are not well-developed - the police characters have potential but are too roughly sketched - Astrid is an attractive heroine with whom one can readily identify, and the pace of the plot guarantees that you won't want to put this book down until you have finished it.
Maxine Clarke, England