Travel journalist, Lo Blacklock, has just received the biggest assignment of her career: to report on the maiden voyage of a billionaire’s luxury cruise liner. However, in the days leading up to her departure, Lo is the victim of a frightening home invasion that leaves her paranoid and unable to sleep. Then, on her first night at sea, she witnesses an unspeakable crime.
Now the woman in the next cabin is missing. Except, when Lo reports her disappearance, she’s told there’s no passenger registered in that suite and no one remembers seeing the woman Lo describes. But the woman’s disappearance is only the first in a series of sinister events witnessed by Lo alone. Either she’s crazy, or someone on the boat has something to hide.
The Woman in Cabin 10 (Harvill Secker, Jun. 2016) is an intense, suspense-driven thriller in the tradition of Agatha Christie.
I read Ruth Ware’s first novel, In a Dark, Dark Wood (Harvill Secker, 2015) on a whim; I was in the mood for a thriller, it had a great cover, and I liked the title’s playful tone. It ended up being one of the best thrillers I’d picked up in years: self-aware and playful but also dead creepy. This time, when I heard Ware had a new novel out, I was champing at the bit.
The Woman in Cabin 10 opens with a chilling prologue: an eerie nightmare followed by Lo’s discovery of a threatening message on her bathroom mirror. The first chapter of the story proper is more disturbing still: Lo’s late night discovery that there is else someone in the house, waiting on the other side of her bedroom door. This scene, where Lo is forced to confront a home invader is so tense, so distressing that it’s a hard act to follow in terms of pure fear factor.
But the strength of The Woman in Cabin 10 lies in the mystery and Ware’s clever plotting. Nothing is quite as it first appears and every character has a secret. Best of all, the story grips and surprises until the final page.
Similar to In a Dark, Dark Wood, The Woman in Cabin 10 has a certain self-reflexive playfulness. Lo’s story is occasionally interrupted and commented on by an online forum of armchair sleuths, and, as in her earlier novel, Ware has fun with all the familiar crime tropes. It’s still a tense and nail-biting read, but also a little tongue in cheek. Ware’s playful style reminds me of Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black (1983), in which Hill gives her reader a sly wink, right before she scares them silly.
However, the thing I loved most about The Woman in Cabin 10 is the way Ware targets specifically female fears to show how women are made to feel insecure and unsafe in real life. Lo’s private spaces—her apartment, her cabin—are repeatedly invaded without her consent. She feels she is under constant surveillance and that her every move is being catalogued and judged. And yet, when she seeks attention and tries to raise the alarm about the missing woman, she’s dismissed as irrational and overwrought. The other passengers, particularly the men, undermine her concerns until she begins to doubt herself.
The Woman in Cabin 10 isn’t as frightening as In a Dark, Dark Wood (at least, I didn’t find it to be), which was a slight disappointment. However, I feel it’s a stronger book overall. The plotting’s tight and full of little twists and every detail is essential. I read The Woman in Cabin 10 so fast, it felt like a novella.
Thank you to Harvill Secker for providing a copy of The Woman in Cabin 10 in exchange for an honest review.
Thanks also to Grammarly for picking up four critical issues and sixteen advanced issues in my draft of this review. If, like me, you have trouble with typos, do give Grammarly a go!
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