Sometimes a scary novel is a welcome alternative to reality, and Ruth Ware has the right formula in The Woman in Cabin 10. On the eve of the big political debate in the United States, with the two prospective Presidents ready to attack each other on live television, I found myself avoiding the front pages and the review sections of the New York Times, glancing at the arts section and opting instead to read Ware’s book – on the bestseller list now for weeks. Starting slowly with a burglary and escalating quickly into a mystery thriller on an elite ocean liner, The Woman in Cabin 10 successfully delivered me from real political moments to a solvable mystery.
Although the narrator, journalist Lo Blacklock, fits the role of unreliable narrator with her alcoholic stupors, panic attacks, antidepressants, and general wide-eyed fawn caught in the headlights persona, the author’s description of the setting makes Blacklock’s accusations seem plausible. You almost expect a dead body to come floating up from the depths of the ocean.
“When I got to the door that opened to the deck, a wall of gray greeted me behind the glass, blanketing the ship in its folds so you could barely see from one end of the deck to the other, giving a strange, muffled feeling. The mist had brought a chill to the air, fogging the hairs on my arms with drizzle, and as I stood uncertainly in the lee of the doorway, shivering and trying to get my bearings, I heard the long, mournful boom of a fog horn.”
Blacklock is convinced a woman has been thrown overboard on her first night at sea, and suspects passengers, including her ex-boyfriend, as well as the crew. Her story seems to be the traumatic aftereffect of the burglary in her apartment the night before she sailed; no one is missing on the ship, and clues that appear only to Blacklock could be dismissed as her imagination or hysteria. Was there ever a woman in Cabin 10?
To add to the confusion, Ware inserts missives projecting forward to the end of the cruise, but in the middle of the action and as Blacklock continues with her narrative – news, after the cruise has docked, proclaiming the disappearance of Blacklock from the ship and the finding of a dead woman’s body washed ashore. The reader knows Blacklock is still alive because her narrative continues and the next shock will give you Vertigo. No spoilers here but let me know if you get my reference after you read the book.
In a combination of Agatha Christie and O’Henry, Ware manages to tie up all the loose threads at the end of the book and provide a surprise ending. A great read – fast and furious, I read it in a sitting – thankfully, not before I went to bed.
As for the great debate tomorrow, now I know it can’t be as scary nor as satisfying as Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10.
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