After their last book 'Losing You' was written in "real time" - covering a woman's search for her missing daughter over a period of about six hours, which is roughly how long it took to read - Nicci Gerrard and Sean French have tried another new approach in their latest novel 'Until It's Over'. This time the book is split into two parts: the first, slightly longer part follows a young cycle courier named Astrid and her six housemates as they find themselves caught up in a series of murders. The second part of the book follows the same basic storyline from the point of view of the killer, explaining how and (partly) why the killings took place. It's a risky move to reveal the identity of the guilty party with over 150 pages left to go, but the authors manage to keep the story going pretty well. I felt my interest waning as I started the second part of the book, but a clever twist revitalises the story and kept me turning the pages.
Anyone who shared a house as a student will definitely recognise the noisy chaos of 72 Maitland Road, where Astrid and the other characters live. Nicci French captures the atmosphere well; I actually felt quite a pang of nostalgia for my student days reading about life in the house (without the murders, obviously...). However, I never got a real sense of who the characters were. They seemed as if they could be summed up by one or two particular traits: Miles is weak, Pippa is promiscuous, Mick is silent, Dario is a stoner, and so on. Even Astrid, who is the narrator for the first part of the book, never really came across as a particularly well-defined character - I never felt like I knew any of them.
Also, the murders seemed almost incidental to the story at times. There's not much of the usual finding of clues, building of suspicions and planting of red herrings that we've come to expect from a Nicci French thriller. A lot of the book is taken up with the housemates arguing over their impending eviction, then every once in a while a body pops up and the police arrive. It just didn't build up gradually into a tense mystery the way I hoped. The dynamics of a shared house are captured well, and the second half of the book was actually better than I expected - although, despite it being told from the killer's point of view, we are never presented with any truly convincing explanation of what turned the guilty person into a psychopath. It just felt a little unsatisfying.
This is still a very readable book, and I think Nicci French fans will get some pleasure from it, but I must admit I was a little disappointed. We never really get to know the characters, which makes it hard to care about them, and we never get much of an explanation as to what's behind the killer's damaged psyche. As a thriller, there's no denying it leaves something to be desired.