In a way, roommates are strangers who pretend to be family. They share a living space, pay bills together, and often use the same food and squabble over toiletries, but there’s no real assurance of trustworthiness. Thrillers have exploited this uncertainty since the first renter’s agreement, and Until It’s Over makes decent use of it as well, throwing an unlikely group together in a house outside London and adding murder to the mix. The killer may not be one of the flatmates, but that’s hardly the point. For author Nicci French (the pseudonym of a husband-and-wife team), the story is less about paranoia and more about what hides in the spaces between people.
Astrid Bell is a bike messenger who’s settled into an easy niche. When she gets into a minor accident coming home from work, it doesn’t seem like much, especially after a house meeting reveals that the building’s owner is planning on kicking everyone out in a few months. But the woman who caused Astrid’s accident is discovered murdered a day or two later. Soon after, another woman with a seemingly random connection to Astrid is killed, and the police start noticing the coincidence. Astrid tries to keep her head on straight and hold her increasingly fractured group of friends together; all the while, someone is watching, listening, and making plans.
Calling Until It’s Over a thriller is overstating the case. While it certainly has its share of mystery and danger, it’s more concerned with charting the petty squabbles and soap opera that comes from colliding lives. This is something of a mixed blessing. French’s characters are the usual faces from popular fiction, and many of their troubles, like Astrid’s romance with a guy down the hall, come off as trite. And yet that romance, along with much of the rest of the soap, is told without any condescension or melodrama, which makes its predictability part of the fun. The development of murders and murderer are clever enough to not be overly insulting, and while the ending is a disappointment, it’s cushioned by the mid-level expectations raised by the rest of the novel.