Into the Water by Paula Hawkins
Rating: 4 stars
I am a huge fan of The Girl on the Train and was so excited to get this book! While I would rate this a half star below The Girl on the Train, it is still a 4 star book and a great thriller/mystery novel. I devoured it over 24 hours and hated any interruption that made me put it down.
The novel starts with a brief account of the death of Libby, who was tied and thrown into a river. Then you are thrown into the main character Jules’ world as she receives the call that her sister Nel was found dead in the river she spent most of her time researching. It turns out this river is a popular spot for suicides and also where several women, including Libby, have died since the early 1700’s (when women were commonly drowned by the townspeople to check if they were witches). Jules and Nel have been estranged since their mother died years before, despite Nel’s attempts to reconcile. Jules must now deal with the repercussions of her sister’s suspicious death while also caring for her niece Lena, a girl she has never met. To add even more complications to Nel’s death, it occurred just a couple of months after a teenage girl named Katie (Lena’s best friend) killed herself at that very spot. The girl’s mother blamed Nel for her daughter’s death, accusing her research of glorifying the women who committed suicide in the river.
The most common critique I’ve seen for this book is the messy plot and large cast of characters. However, I like this aspect since it reflects the case itself: messy, complicated, with too many people involved. There are several paths the investigation could take, several characters who could have had something to do with Nel’s death, and several ways the previous women who met their end in the river could have related to Nel’s or Katie’s more recent deaths.
I prefer books and mysteries to be messy with lots of red herrings because that’s how life is. There are several people with different versions of the truth that you have to try and patch together into a cohesive narrative, possibly filling in the gaps with your own educated guesses. The main reason I docked this half a star from The Girl on the Train, though, is because I didn’t feel like all of the different secondary characters with POV chapters had distinct voices. If you have that large of a POV cast, you have to make sure they all stand apart.
I also liked how Hawkins showed the problems with the Madonna-whore complex that society still suffers from. Some of the men is the story group women into either Madonnas or whores, and their worth is adjusted accordingly. The woman who seems to flaunt her looks or sexuality is labeled a whore and not to be taken seriously. Only the women who appear virtuous or are labeled so by men are worthy of men’s time. This is seen several times throughout the story, including the final showdown between Jules, Erin, and the supposed murderer.
I recommend this to anyone who loved The Girl on the Train or loves a messy thriller/mystery.