crime fiction

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware


Since writing Monday’s post about the mediocre year in book publishing, I finally have a winner. Three cheers and all that!

I read Ruth Ware’s debut novel In a Dark, Dark Wood earlier this year and even though it was so completely preposterous, I thought it was great. Reese Witherspoon even scooped it up for an upcoming film.

Ware’s writing was great and she certainly knows how to keep a reader turning pages, so I was extremely excited when her newest was released. I read this one in two days. I couldn’t put it down and read it into the night to see how it finally ended.

Its premise was reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes and 4:50 From Paddington by Agatha Christiein that a woman–an unreliable narrator for a number of reasons–witnesses a crime that no one believes. There is no body and the more and more she digs, the more the other characters disbelieve her. She is labeled hysterical.

There have been more of these novels–that I dub the women who know too much–probably since the popularity of Gone, Girl. It was a fine read (I was certainly like everyone else on the subway that summer with my nose in the book), but it is the lesser of them all.

Crime and thriller are genres I enjoy when done extremely well. It’s unfair to see excellent books pigeon-holed into a genre ghetto instead of celebrated as literature. Why are we punishing financially successful books?

With that said, there are PLENTY of crap crime books and thrillers. Like all genre, some times the plot synopsis pitch is more interesting the actual composed sentences and for some reason, it is sadly a genre inundated with terrible writing. If a reader is able to find the gems, they will surely be rewarded.

I argue that all books are mystery books. If there is no question the author proposes that needs to be investigated in some way, what’s the point?

Besides The Woman in Cabin 10, I devoured Megan Abbott’s newest title You Will Know Me. Abbott is a stunning writer and I reviewed her book The Fever here a couple of years ago.


The Woman in Cabin 10 follows travel writer Lo Blacklock on a week-long luxury cruise. She is invited for the maiden voyage, along with other people in the business: writers, photographers, investors. The idea is that they will drum up publicity for future voyages. After her apartment is burgled the previous week while she was inside, her nerves are shot, she’s not sleeping well, and when she’s assigned next to a room on the ship that is supposedly empty, everything really goes sideways.

She speaks with a young woman in cabin 10 that no one on the ship seems to know exists. Late one night, Lo hears a loud noise and then what she presumes to be a body go overboard. Blood is smeared on the veranda glass door, but when she returns with the head of security, it’s gone. Of course no one believes her, because, you know, she’s an hysterical woman.

I don’t know how Ruth Ware did it (or how Megan Abbott does it in her novels), but the writing is spot on and the story makes you forgo sleep.

This one was far less absurd than her debut novel. One thing that I’m able to track in these novels is that the authors are able to believably hold back information. They don’t withhold just to withhold and the information, when revealed, doesn’t feel like a convenient bombshell. Also, like aforementioned, they’re actually good writers.

Has anyone else read The Woman in Cabin 10 or any of the other mentioned books? I’m always looking for recommendations. Tana French was once recommended, and while I enjoyed her first book In the Woods, when I went on to her second book, I couldn’t finish it because it was truly awful. Thoughts?


I Have to Sneeze; or what I read when I’m sick

The past week has been filled with a beautiful snow-covered mountain landscape, a continuously roaring fireplace, a gigantic oversized sweatshirt, and the inability to stop sneezing! One of the few good things about having a cold is the opportunity to be incapacitated with only the ability to catch up on all the television you’ve been missing and  highly addictive plotty page-turners that usually fall to the sideline. Below, is an overview of what I’ve been up to for the week that I was sick.

Kate Atkinson has a good many books under her belt, whether it be her award winning fiction to her incredible popular detective series featuring private dick, Jackson Brodie. Case Histories is the first in the series featuring the aforementioned sleuth. Like the title suggests, this novel is all about case histories, three to be exact. The cases span the past three decades but all seem to end up on Brodie’s doorstep. Atkinson’s narrative gets really involved with these twisty turny plots and I rather enjoyed reading about each case history and then finally getting the real truth in the last third. Atkinson had a way of propelling each story forward and weaving the three cases through the present day narrative.

Thanks to PBS and Carole Barrowman’s rec, I googled Peter Robinson and found a whole slew of books featuring DCI Alan Banks. The British-Canadian novelist has been going strong with this series since 1987! Aftermath was brutal, not my usual fare, but I was completely hooked. The book was structure interestingly: the culprit or culprits have already been captured for their crimes and now the rest of the novel proceeds in the aftermath.  Like I mentioned, the crimes were brutal and stark (I’ve never been a fan of shows like CSI; too much disembodied sperm, disembodied limbs for my liking) but the plot had momentum and the narrative was written quite well. This book was smack-dab in the middle of the series and Robinson did a good job incorporating vital past info without making the story cumbersome. Robinson also writes about the background and inspiration for the story on his website.

I should admit that I haven’t yet finished Jo Nesbø’s The Snowman but I will! I am a latecomer to the Scandinavian lit that is all the rage these past years and Nesbø’s thriller is certainly an interesting one. It unfairly suffers from coming right after my Peter Robinson read that was so enjoyable and of course it is a hard act to follow. I do have to say it took me a few chapters to get into the groove of The Snowman (which might have been due to a shaky start with the English translation) but once I did, it started to move forward. Out of the three, this seemed the most cinematic. I am curious to know if he was writing this with movie deals in mind. The Norwegian landscape in the novel is bold and a huge part of the setting.  Nesbø does a really good job of taking an everyday image–a snowman–and making it horrifying. The reader knows something is afoot whenever the narrative lens takes a turn toward this image. I’m looking forward to finally having a chance to finish it up. There is also a 6 minute audio clip at Wikipedia from Bookbits radio featuring Jo Nesbø talking about the book.

Crime Scene : The Festival of New Literature from Europe

Very few things can drag me to the godforsaken diamond district (and in the rain for that matter!) but I made my way to the Center for Fiction last night; also, the promise of free wine and pirogi at the reception was an added bonus. The event was entitled “The Shifting Scene” and there were two panels scheduled: Unconventional Police Protagonists and  The Nature of Evil. This evening was part of a larger literary fest called Crime Scene: New Literature from Europe. Both panels were moderated by B.J. Rahn.

The First Panel: Caryl Ferey (France), Jan Costin Wagner (Germany), Stefan Slupetzky (Austria), Dan Fesperman (USA–but fiction takes place abroad). The first panel was interesting and seemed helpful with the craft and technique of writing a really compelling sleuth. However different their novels and characters were, the panelists also agreed that their “police protagonists” were often unheroic or clumsy, were independent and shattered the ‘tough guy’ image, and used unorthodox methods.

The Second Panel: Zygmunt Miłoszewski (Poland), Anna Maria Sandu (Romania), José Carlos Somoza (Spain). Okay, so here is where everything gets far more interesting and heated. The second panel began speaking about the title, “The Nature of Evil.” Miłoszewski believes that humans are not evil by nature (maybe evil comes from circumstances?). Somoza countered with how evil is not generalized but specific to culture or the world of the book and that evil is connected to childlike instincts and losing one’s civilized veneer. Thus, began a back and forth between the two authors that probably lasted for half of the panel. But it was incredibly intriguing! One of Miłoszewski’s rebuttals was that evil comes from a shared human code and is not a specified interpretation. Finally, the moderator changed her attention to Sandu who spoke through an interpreter. She was the only author of the whole evening who’s protagonist was a woman. Although the moderator tried to get her to speak more about why she chose the female gender for her character, she seemed to always skirt around this question.

While shoving the last of a macaron into my mouth, I asked the woman standing next to me at the reception whether she liked the panels. Of course she did and like me, she particularly liked the second panel (The Nature of Evil). Again, we were on the same page and admitted to each other that we were naive to the panelists and their novels. We both thought that the one that sounded the most interesting and could be a wise choice for first book to read is Anna Maria Sandu’s Kill Me!. Our duo was turned into a trio when B.J. Rahn joined us. She was very intelligent and was a wealth of information. She thought Sandu’s novel was a good choice to start with.

All-in-all, I was glad I braved the rain and once I get a millisecond of free time, I have a new book to check out.