The Other Side of the Door
reviewed by Lou Jacobs
Nicci French—the English wife-and-husband team of Nicci Gerard and Sean French—have weaved a compelling psychological thriller. Told convincingly in two timelines as seen through the eyes of the main protagonist, Bonnie Graham.
A masterful mystery of Whodunit and Why is played out in chapters, “Before” and “After” referring the death of an unknown male. The relevant facts and red herrings are incrementally revealed in a complex and twisted narrative. Along the way the complex dynamics and ramifications of relationships are explored.
The tale opens with Bonnie opening a door to her friend Liza’s flat and encountering a male corpse on the floor with a darkened halo of blood surrounding his head. He’s obviously been bludgeoned. She inexplicably decides to “clean up the scene” and lays out plans to dispose of the body. She phones are best friend, Sonia, to come over and aid with the removal and disposal of the body. Eventually rolling the body up in a carpet and dumping it in a nearby reservoir. No reference is made to the identity of the corpse or connection to Bonnie.
The initial relationship explored is of the three woman, Bonnie, Liza and Danielle—all long-time college buddies. Danielle has an impeding wedding and beseeches Bonnie to get a band together to play at her wedding. While Bonnie is a music teacher and plays multiple instruments, her last experience with a band was nearly a decade ago, at a charity fundraiser. She reluctantly agrees, and assembles a ragtag band of old friends and new acquaintances and one real musician. The addition of Hayden, who actually has played in multiple bands, is not without its inherent problems. During the rehearsals, the diverse nature of the players often results in conflicts. Even though the charismatic Hayden brings professionalism to the group, he also enjoys causing mischief to the others, which results in conflict and division.
Many complex relationships are in play. Amos is part of the band, and yet he previously lived with Bonnie. They have parted, divided up their possessions and live separately. Neal, another member of the band, has lost his live-in girlfriend due to a head-on car crash. He desires to forge a new relationship with Bonnie. Sonia, chemistry teacher and best friends with Bonnie, is developing a close relationship with Amos.
French expertly weaves together the two timelines of The Other Side of the Door, and as they explosively collide multiple unexpected reveals lead to an explosive, unexpected denouement. Not only the complex relationships are explored but also are the meaningful themes of women abuse and “failure to commit.” Magnificent pacing is present as the two timelines approach a collision course, with each chapter getting shorter and more abrupt resulting in the pages flying at a crescendo pace. Although this is my first foray into the oeuvre of Nicci French, I look forward to exploring their earlier fiction.