The Other Side of the Door

The Other Side of the Door

3.6 10
by Nicci French
     
 

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Who is more dangerous? An enemy? A friend? Or a lover?

Bonnie Graham stands in the open door of her friend's apartment. She is alone, except for the dead body lying in a pool of blood on the floor. What happened? What will Bonnie do now? Whom can she turn to? And what role has she played in the murderous events?

Bonnie is a music teacher who has spent a long,

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Overview

Who is more dangerous? An enemy? A friend? Or a lover?

Bonnie Graham stands in the open door of her friend's apartment. She is alone, except for the dead body lying in a pool of blood on the floor. What happened? What will Bonnie do now? Whom can she turn to? And what role has she played in the murderous events?

Bonnie is a music teacher who has spent a long, hot summer in London rehearsing with a band to play at a friend's wedding. It was supposed to be fun, but the band members find the complicated knots of their friendships--some old, some new--unraveling as the days themselves unwind. What was meant to be a summer of happiness, love, and music turns deadly as lovers betray one another, passions turn murderous, and friendship itself becomes a crime. Everyone tells lies. But is anyone prepared to tell the truth to uncover a murderer?

Nicci French, the author of eleven internationally bestselling novels including Killing Me Softly, Catch Me When I Fall, and Losing You, delivers a sexy, intricate thriller about the temptation of secrets, the weight of lies, and the price of betrayal and suspicion.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
At the start of this pitch-perfect thriller from British author French, the husband-wife team of Sean French and Nicci Gerard, band singer Bonnie finds her “summer fling” boyfriend and fellow band member, Hayden, dead on the floor of a friend's London apartment. She proceeds to hide the corpse and obliterate every sign of her presence at the crime scene. This course of action is, predictably, full of pitfalls. Hayden's well-known involvement with other women could have provided Bonnie a motive for murder. To complicate matters, at least one more person appears to have altered the crime scene. Told in a tantalizing series of flashbacks, the narrative draws you into the inner world of the protagonist, a “tough cookie” who nevertheless endures a relationship that's so abusive the reader is never quite sure that she did not, in fact, snap. French (Until It's Over) takes the time to tease out individual characters to a degree seldom seen in crime fiction, saving the final plot twist for the last page. (May)
Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on Until It's Over
It's a fascinating and creepy look inside the feelings and motives of a serial killer.
Booklist on Until It's Over
Novels by Nicci French promise three things: engaging characters, an intricate story, and a sultry atmosphere. This one delivers all three, in spades.
People on Losing You
Lose yourself in this smart nail-biter of a tale about a mother's desperate search for her missing teenage daughter.
Salon.com on Losing You
Nina is the parent we'd all like to be under duress, and I find I've become nearly as protective of her as she is of her daughter.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780312375409
Publisher:
St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
05/11/2010
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
384
Product dimensions:
6.58(w) x 9.64(h) x 1.26(d)

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The Other Side of the Door


By Nicci French

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2009 Joined-Up Writing
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-312-37540-9


CHAPTER 1

After


I turned around and checked the door of the flat. It was closed. That wasn't enough. What if somebody arrived suddenly? What if they had a key? I pulled my sleeve over my hand so that I wouldn't touch it directly and, awkwardly through the cloth, grasped the bolt and slid it across as quietly as I could. The lights were all on, but the curtains still half open. I sidled round the wall until I reached the window, looking out to make sure nobody was standing in the dark street beneath before I closed them.

Starting at the door, I gazed around the room, dispassionately, like a camera, moving my attention from object to object. There was a framed photograph on the wall. I had never seen it properly before. Now I realized that it was a swarm of blurry orange butterflies. On the small table were a phone (what if it rang?) and a bowl with a small bunch of keys in it. Whose were they? His, probably. I needed to think about that. There was a comfy brown suede chair with the guitar case leaned against it. The guitar lay on the floor beside it, smashed through its centre, strings dangling in the splintered wood. I glanced away to the TV that I'd never seen switched on and to the big striped sofa where we had – No, don't. Don't remember. My scarf was draped across one arm where I had left it a couple of days earlier.

I picked it up and wrapped it around my neck, where the violet bruise throbbed like a nasty memory. There was a bookshelf. The books, some of which had been scattered onto the floor, were all Liza's, about art, design, a bit of travel. Liza was far from here, a thousand miles away. On some of the shelves were objects and curios, little sculptures and pieces of pottery. A miniature brass Buddha, a green bottle with a silver stopper. Liza used to bring them back from abroad. There was a low cupboard along the far wall and, on top of it, a mini-stereo with a wire rack barely half full of CDs. They were Liza's too – all except one. I walked across and, with care, using my fingers like tweezers, picked up the Hank Williams CD I had brought the previous week. I opened the case. It was empty. Covering my hand with my sleeve again, I pressed the button on the CD player and the tray opened. There it was. I pushed my little finger into the hole, removed it and returned it to the case. I put it on top of the stereo. I'd need to look for a plastic bag.

A pine table that Liza used for working stood against the right-hand wall. The mail that had arrived in the weeks she'd been away was no longer in a pile but spread out messily on the surface, and a few envelopes were on the carpet. On the table, there was also a silver laptop, its lid closed, the power cable coiled neatly on top, a funny little green plastic tortoise for keeping pens and a tin box full of paperclips and rubber bands. The chair that was usually beside it had fallen over. A vase lay next to it, its red tulips and water spilled out on the carpet, darkening it from the colour of pale barley to that of piss.

Next to that the body lay face down on the rug, arms splayed. It was the arms that showed he was dead, even more than the dark stain that had spread from under his head – really dark, more black than red. I thought of his open eyes staring down into the roughness of the rug, his wide mouth misshapen against the wool. I looked at the hands, stretched out, as if reaching for something.


Before

Those hands. When I first felt them on my face, stroking the skin at the back of my neck, running through my hair, they were softer than I'd expected. Kinder. I felt almost as if he was a blind man learning about my body by touch. He ran his fingers down my naked spine and I felt that I was being played; unfamiliar bass sounds were released from me as he pressed the keys of my vertebrae, strung me out in a pleasure that was close to pain.


After

I couldn't help it. I knelt down beside him for a minute and put one finger into his slightly curled hand, still warm and soft to the touch, and let it rest there for a moment. In spite of everything, he had been mine for a while. He had looked at me as if I was the most beautiful woman in the world, the most precious to him, and I had comforted him. That's not so far from love.

I stood up again and moved around the room, checking things without being sure what I was checking for. I opened the table drawer, crouched and peered under the sofa, lifted the cushion on the armchair. My leather satchel, the scuffed brown one I had carried as a schoolgirl and used again now that I was back at school as a teacher: it should be here. I knew I had left it on the arm of the chair, its strap unbuckled.

I went into the kitchen, placing my feet carefully on the tiles, heel to toe, so that I wouldn't make any noise. There was the usual mess: unwashed mugs and plates, crumbs on the table, a slop of coffee on the hob, an opened packet of biscuits. I stood quite still. Something was wrong; something did not make sense. I opened each cupboard and looked inside. I pulled out each drawer, wincing as it scraped and squeaked, as the cutlery rattled. Where was my apron, the one I'd brought over when I'd cooked us a meal just a few days ago because for once I was wearing a dress that I would mind staining? Where was my favourite – my only – recipe book, with my name written inside the front cover? 'To Bonnie, with love from Mum.' For a moment I stood quite still, baffled, and with an ominous ache in my chest. The tap was dripping very slightly. Outside, I could hear small gusts of wind in the tree at the back and, in the distance, the cars rumbling along the main road, the shake of a lorry that I could feel in my feet.

I tiptoed into the bedroom. The curtains were closed and the bed was unmade. I could almost make out the shape of his body, our bodies, still there. Clothes were piled for washing in a heap to one side of the door. I couldn't see my shirt, the one he had ripped off and tossed aside, although I knew where it had been lying. I remembered the way he had looked at me then, a gaze that made me want to cover my nakedness. I couldn't see my old T-shirt and flannel shorts, the ones I wear at night if it's cool. I pulled open each of the chest's drawers. A few of Liza's clothes were there, the ones she hadn't wanted to take with her, and some of his, but none of mine, and no satchel either. I sat on the bed and closed my eyes for a few seconds, and in the darkness I thought I could feel him there beside me. Would I always live with this or would it fade and dwindle?

There was only one toothbrush in the bathroom. It was mine. His was gone. I took it. My deodorant was missing but his was there. My razor was missing but his was there. My small tub of body lotion was missing. I stared at myself in the small mirror above the basin. Dark eyes in a small white face. Dry lips. The bruise flowering on my neck, half hidden by the scarf.

I returned to the living room. He seemed more massive than before, deader somehow. How quickly does a body become cold? How quickly does red blood turn sticky? If I touched him again, would he feel hard, a corpse now, not a man? Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw his hand move, and I had to stare at it to convince myself that it was impossible.

I was standing on something and when I looked down I saw it was the wedding invitation. I stooped and picked it up, folded it in half and then half again, and pushed it with the toothbrush I was still holding into the pocket of my jeans.


Before

'Cheers.' I raised my glass of cold white wine and clinked it against theirs. 'Here's to the holidays.'

'Liza and I aren't on holiday, remember,' Danielle said. 'Only teachers get six whole weeks.'

'Only teachers deserve six whole weeks. Here's to the summer, then.'

I took a sip and leaned back luxuriously. It was evening but the air was still soft and warm. I needed the summer – the late mornings, the hot, light-filled days, the time away from classes of teenagers making tentative scrapes and whistles on their violins and recorders, the staff room where we were no longer allowed to smoke but drank too many cups of coffee instead, the evenings marking homework and trying to sort out my life, paper by paper, bill by troubling bill.

'What are you going to do with all the time you've got?'

'Sleep. See films. Eat chocolate. Get fit. Swim. Catch up with friends. Decorate my flat at last.'

Several months ago I had moved out of a two-bedroom flat I had loved into one of the smaller, darker, dingier one-bedroom flats that Camden Town had to offer, with thin walls, flaking window frames, a fridge that leaked and a radiator that spluttered and only got warm when it felt like it. My project was to do it up. I had romantic ideas of rescuing beautiful pieces of furniture from skips and wielding a brush to work miracles with whitewash, but first I had to scrape away layers of paint and paper, pull up the patterned carpet, and try to persuade overworked friends to take a look at the electrics and the suspicious brown stain spreading on the ceiling.

'So I'm at home this year,' I said. I turned to Danielle. 'I guess you're going away after the wedding.'

'Honeymoon in Italy,' she said, and gave a small, triumphant smile. I felt a stab of irritation. Danielle seemed to think that her approaching marriage meant that she had achieved a moral ascendancy over Liza and me. We had been at university together, part of the great student democracy of mess and heartbreak and growing up, but now she behaved as though she had pulled ahead of us in a race we hadn't even known we were in, and was looking down on us with a mixture of superiority and pity: Liza, the drunken hoarse-voiced partygoer, and me, the flat-chested school teacher with bleached hair and a string of unfortunate relationships behind me. She was even starting to look different. Her dirty-blonde hair had been expertly layered, styled and flounced; her fingernails were painted a pearly pink (all the better to show off the single diamond); she wore a light summer skirt and looked pretty and un-threatening, as if she were trying to tone down her sexuality in order to become the sweet, blushing bride. I was half expecting her to squeeze my hand and tell me not to worry, that my time would come.

'September the twelfth, isn't it?' Liza poured herself another very large glass of wine and took a deep slurp, smacking her lips with gusto. I gazed at her with affection: one of the buttons on her very tight shirt had come undone, and her mane of auburn hair fell in a muss over her flushed face. 'We'll have to think what wedding present to get you. Something unusual.'

'There's only one thing I want from both of you,' Danielle said, leaning forward so I could see tiny drops of perspiration above her upper lip. For a moment, I thought she must have a wedding list and that I would have to buy an electric kettle or half a silver teaspoon. 'I want you to play at the party.'

'What?' Liza and I spoke at the same time, an identical note of incredulity and dismay in our voices.

'I've been dying to ask you. Honestly, it would mean so much to me. And to Jed.'

'You mean, play music?' I said stupidly.

'I've never forgotten the evening when you played at that uni fund-raiser. Gorgeous. It made me cry. It was one of the happiest evenings of my life.'

'Not of mine,' I said, which was an understatement. 'Anyway, Danielle, we haven't played together for – well, probably not since that evening.'

'Definitely not since that evening,' said Liza, with a snort. She'd been the singer and even then, nearly a decade ago, her voice had been hoarse from smoking. I couldn't imagine what it would be like now – something like a rook with twigs in its mouth. 'I don't know where half of them have gone.'

'And don't want to know,' I added.

'Ray's in Australia.'

'You can get together again,' said Danielle. 'Just this once. It would be fun. Nostalgic.'

'I don't know about that.'

'For my sake?' she said winsomely. She didn't seem to understand that we had no intention of playing at her wedding. 'You only get married once.'

'It's impossible,' said Liza, happily. She waved her hands in the air exuberantly. 'I've got my sabbatical and you won't see me for dust. I'm away for four whole weeks in Thailand and Vietnam. I get back just a couple of days before your wedding. Even if we could persuade the others, which we couldn't, I wouldn't be around to rehearse. Neither would most of them. It's summer, after all.'

'Oh,' said Danielle. She looked as if she might weep, her cherished plans gone awry. Then she brightened again, propped her small chin on her hand and directed her words at me. 'But you're here, Bonnie. All summer. Doing your flat up.'

I don't know how it was that I said yes, when I really meant no no no no. On no account. I don't know how I allowed my lovely six weeks of pottering about between bouts of decorating to be invaded. But I was a fool, and I did.


After

I didn't know what to do next, and although I understood that every second might matter, that time was running out, I simply stood in the living room, not looking at where he lay face down in the puddle of his own blood. I tried to think, but there were spaces in my brain where thoughts should have been. At one point, I put my hand on the bolt ready to leave, to run into the road and breathe in the night air, but I stopped myself. I wiped the bolt clean with my sleeve, rubbing at the smudge, imagining the spirals of my fingerprints disappearing. I couldn't leave. I had things to do. Tasks. I swallowed hard. I breathed, in and out, as deeply as I could. It was difficult. My breath jammed in my windpipe so that for a moment I thought I would suffocate. I imagined my body falling, coming to rest beside his on the floor, my eyes staring into the tufts of carpet, my hand over his.

I got a plastic bag from the cupboard under the kitchen sink and put in my CD, the toothbrush and the wedding invitation. I started in the bedroom, where most of his things were. I had to do this right. I had only one chance. I found his passport in the drawer of the bedside table, as well as a packet of condoms, and I took both of these and dropped them into the bag. What else? I went into the bathroom and took his razor, his deodorant and his empty sponge bag. His jacket was hanging on the back of a chair in the living room. I felt in the pockets and found his wallet. I thumbed through it. There was a credit card, a debit card, a tatty paper driving licence, a twenty-pound note (that I'd lent him), a small photograph of a woman I didn't recognize, a passport-sized photograph of him. His glowing eyes, his sudden smile, his hands on my body. Even now, with his body dead on the floor, my skin tingled with the memory. I dropped the wallet into the plastic bag. What else? He owned so little. 'You,' I heard him say, as clear as if he was by my side. 'I possessed you, Bonnie.' And I felt clammy and cold all at once, goosebumps on my skin and sweat on my forehead as if I was going to be sick. I pressed my fingers against my temples to stop the pounding.

As I stood there like that, I heard the phone, not the flat phone, not my mobile, which I had turned off anyway. So that was what I'd forgotten. His mobile. I knew where it would be and the muffled sound of the ringing tone confirmed it. I waited until it stopped, then made myself go back to the body and squat beside it. With half-closed eyes I pushed my hand under it and felt for the rectangle shape. I wriggled my fingers down into the pocket and drew out the mobile. I didn't put it into the bag, though. I turned it off without looking at who had called him and slid it into my pocket.

I looked down at him. At it, huge on the floor. Now what? Because I knew that I couldn't do this alone.


Before

Keeping a class of teenagers under control is a bit like conducting an orchestra, except that it's an orchestra made up of some kind of feral, man-eating beast. It's one of those animals that can smell your fear; it can see it in your eyes, sense it in the shortness of your breath, the acceleration of your heartbeat. And then it goes for you. But it doesn't kill you immediately. It's like a crocodile or a shark that grabs you and plays with you for a while. There were teachers who arrived with confidence and qualifications and thick skin, but just one thing would go wrong and you'd find them crying in the toilets. And when things got really out of control, there was only one thing to be done: send for Miss Hurst.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Other Side of the Door by Nicci French. Copyright © 2009 Joined-Up Writing. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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