>> Wednesday, February 15, 2017
TITLE: The Woman in Cabin 10
AUTHOR: Ruth Ware
PUBLISHER: Gallery/Scout Press
SETTING: Contemporary UK, Norway, and on board a cruise ship
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.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.
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 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+.