Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Review: The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

Thrillers are not my usual reading choice. In fact, I don't think I've ever read one that I haven't been pushed to in one way or another. The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware, billed as the next Girl on the Train, would definitely not ever have been on my radar if my book club hadn't chosen it as our monthly book. And because I try to let book club push me out of my usual reading (sometimes), I gamely picked this up.  Sadly, it confirmed that thrillers are not the genre for me.

Laura (Lo) Blacklock is a travel writer who can't quite commit all the way to her relationship with her boyfriend, Judah. Already struggling emotionally, Lo wakes up one night convinced that she isn't alone in her apartment. She's right. Traumatized by this terrifying home invasion, she jumps at the chance to get away by taking her boss's place on the maiden voyage of the Aurora, an exclusive luxury cruise ship traveling through the Norwegian fjords. The cruise ship only has ten guest cabins and is meant as an experience for the super rich after this first press junket. Still anxious and on edge as a result of the break-in, Lo is drinking too much and taking anxiety medication. When she hears a scream in the middle of the night and witnesses a person thrown overboard from the balcony beside hers, she is certain she's witnessed a murder. Except no guests or crew members are missing from the ship. Lo can't let it go, certain she saw what she saw, and she presses for an investigation even though, trapped on the ship as they are, the murderer must be among them.

Lo's increasingly paranoid first person account is interrupted every now and again by her boyfriend's worried emails, first to her and then to more and more people. The emails from Judah felt oddly out of place in the plot time line so instead of ramping up the tension, they were easily dismissed by the reader. In theory, given the plot, this novel should have been an amazing, tense, and thrilling tale, right? Well, there are some real problems with it. Although the reason Lo takes anxiety medication is well handled (the previous break-in), the fact that our heroine is constantly drunk to the point of being sick and is completely incautious about throwing around her murder theory, bumbling through an investigation, such as it is, make the story less intense. Sure, she's panicked and on edge after her own pre-cruise experience, but would a woman who is that traumatized seriously push back that hard on a murder no one else can corroborate? Add this unlikely scenario to the fact that Lo as a character is whiny and irritating and has zero aptitude as an investigator and you have a very unlikable, questionable main character. Lo may not be able to figure out the murderer until her back is against the wall, but the reader knows almost from their introduction on the page who it will be.

There were small irritants as well like Lo seeing the ship for the first time at the docks and noting how surprisingly small it was but then each and every time she entered a room on the boat, she remarked on how spacious it was, also commenting on the idea that she could get lost below decks. So was the boat large or small? It can't be both at once. And the coincidences. Puh-lease!  (spoiler ahead--highlight the following blank if you want to see the text.)  The guest who was supposed to be in cabin 10 stayed home because he too had a break-in occur at his house. Really? Worse yet, this is just coincidence and has nothing to do with the plot. One break in to establish a mental state works. A second one just to keep a character from appearing in the story, well honestly, that feels sloppy on the author's part. There's no other credible reason someone might skip a cruise? ::sigh:: On the plus side, there was a rising sense of claustrophobia that would be likely when you're trapped on a boat with a murderer and there's no phone or wifi to contact the outside world (although again, most boats nowadays use satellites to navigate so she really couldn't get a signal on her phone, ever?). And if the murderer was never in question, the actual details of the crime were in fact surprising, unlikely and out of the blue, but surprising nevertheless. Because of the first person narration, there were long repetitious stretches where we are told Lo's suspicions and then she repeats them again to the crew member assigned to help her question the crew in an unneeded by the reader second telling. The ending of the novel was frustrating (Lo's dimwittedness was on display again) and stretched belief (another spoiler ahead) (she plunged into the water forty feet--yes, forty feet *under* water--and had zero repercussions as she struggled to surface? That's five atmospheres down. Not a depth I'd want to hit without a decompression stop on the way up). Quite honestly the worst thing about this book for book club was that there was nothing in the book to discuss as a group so we were reduced to nitpicking at things like this.  And others had other details that bothered them.  Even before the meeting though, it hadn't been the most enjoyable read for me. But I am not a thriller reader. Perhaps those who enjoy the genre will have more success with this than I did if they can overlook the crazy plot holes, coincidences, and inaccuracies.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.

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