Review 2036: A Slow Fire Burning

Laura Kilbride often has poor judgment, such as when she spent the night with Daniel Sutherland. That night turned ugly, and she was seen by the writer Theo Myerson leaving the area with blood on her face. She says she didn’t kill Daniel, but an accident in her youth has left her with a condition that causes her to react inappropriately, and the detectives think her behavior is odd.

Another odd witness is the woman who discovered the body, Miriam Lewis, whose narrowboat is next to Daniel’s. She hasn’t told the police that she bears a grudge against Theo Myerson, who stole significant portions of her memoir for his best-selling thriller. And Theo happens to be Daniel’s uncle.

Carla and Theo’s marriage did not survive the death of their young son when he was in the care of Angela Sutherland, Daniel’s mother. This accident happened many years ago, but Carla and Theo were never able to forgive Angela, and Angela has recently died.

There are more secrets to come out before the murder is solved. Hawkins does a good job of keeping the pace moving while keeping the readers on the edges of their seats.

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Review 1363: Into the Water

Jules has been estranged from her sister, Nel, since she was thirteen. That’s why, when Nel called her asking for help, she didn’t even bother listening. Now Nel is dead, having fallen from the top of a cliff into the river in the Drowning Pool, the location of several suicides by women as well as witch drownings centuries before.

When Jules travels to Beckford to take charge of her fifteen-year-old niece, Lena, she finds a lot of rumors going around. Louise Whittaker, whose daughter, Katie, died in the same place as Nel a few months ago, thinks Nel was responsible for her daughter’s death because of her research into the Drowning Pool. Is there a connection between the deaths, and did Nel commit suicide? Nickie Sage, the local psychic, thinks the police should be looking at an earlier death, that of Lauren Slatter, who died at the Drowning Pool when her son Sean was six.

I have to say that Hawkins is good at throwing in plot twists and keeping your attention. Although this novel is probably classified as a thriller, it is not so much suspenseful as it is complex. It keeps you guessing.

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Day 846: The Girl on the Train

Cover for The Girl on the TrainRachel has been having a hard time the past year or two. Her husband Tom left her for another woman, and her excessive drinking lost her her job. She is so ashamed of this that she pretends to go to work every morning on the train so that her flatmate won’t know.

On the train each day she passes her old neighborhood, and she spots a couple living in a house four doors down from where she used to live. She fantasizes that the two are a happy couple and even gives them names. But one day as she passes by, she sees the wife kissing another man.

That weekend, the wife, whose name is Megan, disappears. Throughout the book, some chapters are written from Megan’s point of view, starting a year before and moving quickly to the present. Immediately, it becomes clear that Megan is a woman with secrets.

Rachel goes to the police with her information about a lover, mainly because she knows they will look first at Megan’s husband Scott, and Rachel doesn’t think he did anything. But Rachel’s credibility is soon destroyed by Tom and his new wife Anna, who let the police know she’s been stalking them when she drinks too much.

In fact, the night Megan disappeared, Rachel was in the neighborhood trying to see Tom. But she was drunk and only has a hazy memory of being helped up by a red-haired man she sometimes sees on the train. After the incident, she awakened at home with a gash in her head that she can’t remember getting.

Rachel can’t seem to keep herself from inserting herself into the investigation, even lying to Scott that she and Megan were friends. Of course, it will all fall apart. The reader wonders, did Rachel herself kill Megan?

This novel has been compared to Gone Girl after that novel’s great success. I realize that is a marketing ploy, but it actually had the effect of making me avoid The Girl on the Train for a while. That said, I think a better comparison is with the novels of Sophie Hannah, which feature troubled heroines who are usually being gaslighted by someone.

As such, it is an effective thriller, difficult to guess. As Rachel slowly pulls her act together, we get to like her. I liked this novel well enough, but Gillian Sharp is great. I’ve admired her work since well before Gone Girl became popular. So, no comparison.

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