My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
When I picked up this book, I was ready for a spell-binding mystery with a terrifying location (cruise ship – seriously, is there a worse place to be when a murder happens??) and a strong female lead. I’ve been listening to Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay recently, so suffice it to say I wanted a smart woman who could kick ass. Unfortunately, I found this book to be a bit lacking and it wasn’t the page turner I originally thought it would be.
The premise is certainly intriguing. Laura (Lo) Blacklock is a journalist for a British travel magazine called Voyageur. She is selected to cover the epic first voyage of the luxurious ocean liner Aurora because her boss is having complications with her pregnancy. A few days before the boat is to set sail, however, a masked intruder invades her suite and she is thrust into the throes of PTSD. She is a woman who suffers from chronic anxiety and depression, so this incident only serves to exacerbate her symptoms. Once on the ship, she believes that a murder has taken place in the cabin next to her’s. The problem, however, is that no one believes her and the crew tells her that there was no passenger staying in Cabin 10. This sends Lo on a journey to find out what happened, as she is sure that she came into contact with a lady in that very cabin during their first afternoon at sea. As she digs deeper, she realizes that she may be in danger as well and that someone will go to any length to cover up whatever happened that dark, lonely night out on the water.
The Woman in Cabin 10 has been repeatedly compared to the classic Agatha Christie stories. However, the similarities are superficial at best in that both have an isolated setting and limited cast of characters. I think that Ruth Ware tried hard to envoke that “whodunit” archetype that made Christie’s books so highly enjoyable, but it fell flat for me. The characters are not developed enough to achieve the proper mystique that draws the reader in to a more well-written mystery. There definitely needed to be more interaction between the major players in this book for the reader to feel that constant wondering. True, she kept us guessing until the end, but I wasn’t able to mentally engage with the story like I wanted to because there just wasn’t enough there. I wanted to know more about the characters, to change my thinking multiple times in the reading of this book, and be thoroughly tricked by the author.
After all, that is the mark of a truly engrossing mystery, isn’t it? It felt like there needed to be more drafts of this book in order to achieve that.
Another comparison has been drawn between The Woman in Cabin 10 and The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. I wasn’t a huge fan of The Girl on the Train either, but it definitely had some draws that this book was unable to match. The alcohol-induced blackout scenes, for example, were well-written and provided just enough information to continually keep you guessing. There was no such device in this story to really hook you and pull you along for the ride.
Lo’s complete transformation from lackadaisical journalist to over-the-top amateur detective seemed abrupt and forced. From the moment she hears the splash, even though she is seemingly passed out from exhaustion and alcohol intake, she is sure it sounds like a body. Really?? I expect to have to suspend belief for the sake of the story, but it just didn’t work for me. She then runs headlong into an “investigation” of the ship’s passengers and crew looking for the suspected murderer. Which means she runs around the ship talking about how scared she is. There really are no qualities that make Lo a character worth cheering on. I don’t have to like a character in a book, but I do have to find them somewhat interesting to buy in. At one point, during a conversation with a security professional on the ship, she hits him with,
“…you don’t get to do this…call me ‘Miss Blocklock on minute, tell me you respect my concerns and I’m a valued passenger blah blah blah, and then the next minute brush me off like a hysterical female who didn’t see what she saw.”
Well, sweetheart, we reap what we sow, right? If the security guard had treated her as anything but a hysterical passenger (I loathe the term “hysterical female” – we don’t need to perpetuate every gender stereotype) I would have seriously questioned his sanity.
As much as I expected more from the story, this book earned points for me in some areas too. Props to Ms. Ware for giving us a heroine who struggles with mental health issues and refuses to be pigeon-holed by the people who don’t believe her. Right on, lady! Even though the final product wasn’t what I was expecting, I think Ruth Ware began with a stupendous premise and the skeleton of a great story is present within these pages. For all the book’s faults, I did want to find out “whodunit” eventually. Not only that, but she did manage to surprise me at the end. I think that the last quarter of the book was far superior to everything that came before, so I didn’t mind sticking with it until the end.
Is this a gripping, masterfully written Gone Girl cronie? No. Although I think it would be an easy, enjoyable read for someone who is especially partial to these types of thrillers.I, however, like a bit more meat in my mystery sandwich.