EXCLUSIVE: In a big pre-Thanksgiving auction, Universal Pictures has acquired screen rights to The Girl Before, a thriller novel written by author J.P. Delaney that Ballantine Bantam Dell Random House will publish in fall, 2016. Ron Howard is attached to direct the film, and Michael De Luca is producing with Imagine Entertainment’s Brian Grazer, Howard and Erica Huggins. Imagine’s Tyler Mitchell will be exec producer; Elishia Holmes will exec produce for Michael De Luca Productions.

TriStar, Paramount and two indie financiers competed for the title, which is believed to have been written by bestselling author Tony Strong under a pseudonym. In The Girl Before, a traumatized woman falls in love with an extraordinary minimalist house and with the man who designed it. But when she discovers that three years earlier another damaged woman died here, she starts to wonder if her own story is just a re-run of the girl before. This becomes yet another big publishing/movie deal for a thriller book with a woman in jeopardy and with the word “girl” in the title. The others were Gone Girl and The Girl On The Train, which Tate Taylor is directing for DreamWorks.

Howard directed the whale tale In The Heart Of The Sea, an adaptation of the Nathaniel Philbrick non-fiction book.

Senior Vice President of Production Kristin Lowe will oversee the project for Universal. CAA brokered the deal and rep Grazer, Howard, De Luca and the author, the latter of whom is also repped by Caradoc King and Yasmin MacDonald at United Agents in the U.K.