I am not usually one to read mystery books or scary, suspenseful thrillers- I preferred ‘The Boxcar Children’ and Judy Blume to Nancy Drew and ‘Goosebumps’ growing up, and those preferences have stayed with me. I remember opening up Stephen King’s “Desperation” at the young age of 11, reading the first chapter, and having nightmares for a month. I guess I don’t like to be scared, don’t like exposing my imagination to things that it can run wild with.
Since downloading Goodreads and joining the #bookstagram community, however, I have been introduced to many other genres that have piqued my interest. I appreciate authors who create complex plotlines, craft brilliant bends and turns within each chapter; Gillian Flynn and Celeste Ng truly wow me with their hooks. I have therefore spent this year dipping my toes into the murky, deep waters of ‘Mystery & Thriller’ categories.
Two suspense books sat on my bookshelves, waiting to be read, and October seemed like the perfect month to ‘spook’ things up a bit.
The first book that I read was “The Woman In The Window,” By A.J. Finn. She introduces Anna Fox, a wife and mother living in her New York City brownstone, now alone, and in and out of sobriety. Her husband and child are living elsewhere while Anna gets treatment for post-traumatic agoraphobia, or fear of crowded spaces. She speaks with a therapist regularly and chats with her husband to help her cope, but Anna’s day to day includes watching Hitchock films, drinking heavily, self-medicating, and spying on her neighbors.
One day, however, she catches a glimpse of something she is not supposed to see through her neighbor’s window, a murder of someone she swears she has met before. Details are sharp, and then fuzzy: How much had she been drinking? Who should she tell, and who might believe her?
We play ‘detective’ with Anna, stringing together facts and timelines until revelations emerge that she has struggled to acknowledge.
I gave this book 4 stars: Chapters were short with surprises that kept pages rapidly turning. The Hitchcock references throughout the book were brilliant, character arcs were fantastic- every individual, from the Sheriff to the murderer himself, had soft and jagged edges. My mouth dropped when Anna’s big secret was revealed; I did not expect such a plot twist and it was expertly done. And lastly, while the book was not scary, it was definitely suspenseful in a way that has stayed with me: When the world grows dark and I can see into my neighbor’s kitchen, I definitely find myself turning away before I can lock eyes with anyone on the other side.
“The Woman In The Window” is slated to debut on Netflix soon and if it is anything like “Gone Girl” or “The Girl On The Train,” I am here for it.
After an impressive first read, I moved onto my second book, “The Woman In Cabin 10,” by Ruth Ware.
Lo Blacklock, an aspiring journalist for a travel magazine, has just been granted the opportunity of a lifetime: Her boss is not able to attend a work trip on a luxury cruise line and has asked Lo to take her place. This getaway seems to be the ticket to Lo’s success, a chance to write about this experience abroad and showcase her talents in a new way.
But Lo gets robbed the week of her departure and is shaken up by the intrusion. Still, she commits to the trip and embarks on the weeklong trip through the North Sea.
One night, Lo is awoken from sleep by a scream, runs out to her balcony and finds blood smeared on the divider between her room and the cabin next door. She dials security and learns that Cabin 10 is actually vacant, there have been no passengers staying in the room.
Lo is sure of what she saw and sets to find more clues (while keeping her own fears and panic at bay with medication and alcohol.) On a ship of such few people, who can she trust? And who actually was murdered, if all of the guests on board seemed to be accounted for?
This felt like a game of Clue, which I liked, but after reading “The Woman In The Window,” I grew tired of the female character flaw of alcoholic dependency. “The Girl On The Train” and “The Couple Next Door” were also like this, and I am not sure why alcoholism and substance abuse are such widely used themes in suspense novels. It almost dilutes the believability for me.
I loved the unique setting and character buildout- Advertising, travel, photography elites, all cruising the fjords to endorse a stunning ship that in my mind, had the Kate Winslet banister included in the design, all other bells and whistles onboard. But I wanted more: Between the substance abuse reboot to its intermittent lack of originality, (hello, murder mystery dinner cruise) and a rushed, jumbled, hardly believable ending, I had to give this book a 3/5 rating. (GoodReads rating is a 3.71, where “The Woman In The Window” is rated a 3.94. I tend to agree with those estimates.) I do know that Ruth Ware is a seasoned suspense writer though, so I want to give some of her other books a try, like “The Turn Of The Key.” I have read that she is “the Agatha Christie of our time” and wish to explore more of her thrillers, and others.
As you may have deduced, this is not the typical format of my review entries. I liked reading two suspense novels back to back though, and think that I will make this a “Spooktober” tradition, comparing and contrasting plotlines in a “Suspense Showdown.”
With that being said, do you have any recommendations for must-read thrillers? Let me know which ones I should add to the list in the comments below! And if you have read one or both of these books, what did you think?
** Want to see what I’m reading next? Find me on GoodReads and join the 2020 challenge with me! https://www.goodreads.com/addingpunctuation **
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