The Woman in Cabin 10, by Ruth Ware

>> Wednesday, February 15, 2017

TITLE: The Woman in Cabin 10
AUTHOR: Ruth Ware

COPYRIGHT: 2016
PAGES: 340
PUBLISHER: Gallery/Scout Press

SETTING: Contemporary UK, Norway, and on board a cruise ship
TYPE: Mystery/Trhiller
SERIES: None

From New York Times bestselling author of the “twisty-mystery” (Vulture) novel In a Dark, Dark Wood, comes The Woman in Cabin 10, an equally suspenseful novel from Ruth Ware—this time, set at sea.

In this tightly wound story, Lo Blacklock, a journalist who writes for a travel magazine, has just been given the assignment of a lifetime: a week on a luxury cruise with only a handful of cabins. At first, Lo’s stay is nothing but pleasant: the cabins are plush, the dinner parties are sparkling, and the guests are elegant. But as the week wears on, frigid winds whip the deck, gray skies fall, and Lo witnesses what she can only describe as a nightmare: a woman being thrown overboard. The problem? All passengers remain accounted for—and so, the ship sails on as if nothing has happened, despite Lo’s desperate attempts to convey that something (or someone) has gone terribly, terribly wrong…

With surprising twists and a setting that proves as uncomfortably claustrophobic as it is eerily beautiful, Ruth Ware offers up another intense read.
Lo Blacklock's week-long stay on the Aurora should have been the highlight of her year. The Aurora is a new luxury cruise ship, and Lo, a lowly staff writer at a travel magazine, would not usually get such a perk. However, her boss is pregnant and her really bad morning sickness does not mix well with the idea of a week sailing in the North Sea, so Lo it is.

Lo plans to grab the opportunity with both hands, but then someone breaks into her flat (while she's there, no less) just a couple of days before she's due to sail. Physically she's mostly fine after the experience, but the trauma puts her off her stride right from the start, and she boards the ship already feeling off-balance and not quite right.

Things get even worse the very first night, when after a long, boozy gourmet dinner, Lo is woken up by what she's convinced is a scream from the cabin next door. That is shortly followed by the sort of splash only a heavy object (like a body) could make going overboard, and when Lo runs onto the balcony outside her room, she sees a bloody smear on the glass screen that connects it to the balcony belonging to the cabin next door.

There's no doubt in Lo's mind that the young woman staying in that cabin, whom Lo briefly met right after she boarded, must have come to a sticky end. But when she reports what's happened to the head of security, the man is baffled. The cabin next door is empty, since the man who was supposed to stay there had to cancel at the last minute. The ship's records show there isn't, nor ever was, a young woman staying there, and when they open the cabin to check it, its completely empty state seems to bear that out. Lo can swear up and down all she wants that she saw the woman -even borrowed a tube of mascara off her!- but it doesn't seem very probable to the head of security. And his doubts solidify into certainty when he discovers Lo takes anti-anxiety medication. Mental health issues + a lot of alcohol = unreliable woman, as far as he's concerned. He'll be polite and won't say anything, even allow Lo to ask a few questions of the staff, just to ease her mind, but it's obvious to Lo that he's not taking her seriously at all.

Someone else is, however. Lo's attempts to figure out what happened lead to a reaction. Someone clearly wants her to stop digging.

The Woman in Cabin 10 did not start out well for me. I was getting more and more annoyed with Lo, until I suddenly had a big "think again" moment. My annoyance with Lo was because I thought she was just pointlessly making things harder for herself by being all hysterical and incoherent and jumping to conclusions when reporting the crime to the head of security. I was thinking "If only you had said this and this and this to him, it would have been fine!". And then I just stopped dead and thought about all those cases of women not being believed when reporting crimes (rape, particularly), because they don't behave exactly as whatever police officer takes their statement has in their mind as the way a woman reporting a rape should behave. And my whole view of the book and the character shifted. Well, of course Lo would be a mess when reporting what has happened! She has just had a traumatic experience, which has come after the break-in, so she was already traumatised. And yes, she has been drinking, but she has just attended a well-watered bazillion-course dinner! She behaved in one of the many ways a normal person might in similar circumstances. After that point, my perception of the book changed completely, and I started to enjoy it loads.

The mystery turned out to be really good. It works wonderfully as a whodunnit, since the plotting is very well done. There are plenty of red herrings and I took several wrong turns trying to follow them. Ware plays completely fair, though, and when I finally understood what had happened, everything clicked into place perfectly. I had that magical 'a-ha!' moment every good mystery should have. That happens a bit before the end, and that's when the book becomes a really good thriller. I was at the edge of my seat... well, not quite literally, since it was an audiobook and I mainly listen while I exercise -let's just say I completely lost track of time while ont he treadmill, and my workout was over before I knew it. And then there's the dénouement. I thought for a minute things had kind of gone a bit anticlimactic, but then we get a little final revelation, and I just smiled happily.

The book also has a really great sense of place. The ship feels real and Ware creates a vivid atmosphere, combining the closed spaces and Lo's mental state to create an oppressive sense of claustrophobia. Mind you, I still wanted to go on the ship myself!

Something else I appreciated was the lack of romance as the point of the book. Lo has a boyfriend, and their relationship has a bit of space here, but it's in the background. It's not what the book is about, although the events in the book do develop it. Also, she has what feels like a realistic life for a woman her age today, with friends and social media. It's ridiculous that is so uncommon, but it is, and I liked seeing here for once.

A solid, enjoyable read. It will probably not be for everyone (most of the reviewers on amazon seem to have felt really frustrated by Lo), but it was definitely for me.

MY GRADE: A B+.

6 comments:

meljean brook 15 February 2017 at 07:10  

Oh, this is super interesting. Because I was turned off by the Amazon reviews, but no one really explained in the same way why they disliked the main character so much. It just sounded as if she was an intolerable character with no real common sense.

But your explanation (and your frustration with her, until that moment of realization) makes a difference. I think I'll give it another look.

Sun,  15 February 2017 at 13:37  

Thank you for the reivew! I've been eyeing this one for a while and you're the source I can trust. Now if only the price will drop.

Barb in Maryland 15 February 2017 at 22:12  

Great review! I quite enjoyed the book and had no problem with Lo's attitude at all.
Here's a woman who takes medication for an anxiety disorder and who enjoys a drink (or 3);one who was trying to cope with a traumatic recent event in her life. She is almost immediately 'gaslighted' by the security dude because of those very personal facts.
All those plot twists and turns--loved them. And the endings were just right, especially the last one. I, too, smiled at that.
While I loved the idea of a small, exclusive luxury ship, this one just seemed a bit creepy to me--all that white! Of course, the author was trying to make it creepy...

Wendy 15 February 2017 at 23:58  

After reading your review now I feel bad for not liking this one more. You bring up excellent points about Lo - but ugh. I think I'm kind of over this trend of heroines running off half-cocked in suspense novels. Girl on the Train, The Pocket Wife and Woman in Cabin 10...all heroines who get black-out drunk, get gaslighted, run off half-cocked. And I think I read them all last year. Too many, too close together.

Rosario 16 February 2017 at 19:49  

Meljean: I've read the reviews and they're just about what I was thinking about her for the first few sections. I should reread it at some point in the future to see if they now come across differently to me. I think Ware is an interesting author, quite feminist, although not in an overt way.

Sun: I went for the audiobook, myself. It was a good use of a credit, although the Scandinavian accents were not the greatest!

Barb: Exactly! Gaslighting is exactly what he did, even if he wasn't doing it consciously (I did wonder for a while if he was, actually). And I loved that Lo had the strength of mind to resist that.

I won't say more about the ending, but oh, yeah! :)

Wendy: LOL, we're turning into reading anti-twins! :) Yeah, I guess if you read too many heroines like this very close together, it will get old quickly, like everything else. But I do like that more and more, heroines are 'allowed' to be this imperfect and flawed.

Marianne McA,  26 February 2017 at 00:41  


I ordered this after reading your review - my reservation with it would be that it fell uneasily between gothic suspense and cosy mystery. I think the author was trying for the former, but for me, she only achieved it in the latter part of the book. (While I really liked that the heroine was certain about what she heard and saw, if she had doubted herself, that would have heightened the gothic atmosphere.)

My other, maybe not a reservation, more a pet annoyance - is that I would like a competent journalist, however distressed, to - if not actually file copy, at least think about filing copy.

But the last section worked for me, and I enjoyed it as a cosy mystery - because I knew you'd said the author played fair, I tried to guess the answer, and absolutely didn't - so it really worked as a puzzle.

(I'm now worried about Wendy's theory that these books don't read well together, because 'Girl on the Train' is my book club read, and I'm 50 pages into it. I wouldn't read an alcoholic protagonist by choice, so it's already a bit of a chore.)

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