Review - The Woman in Cabin 10, Ruth Ware

Review Written By
Karen Chisholm

It feels like such a relief to have a woman in Cabin 10, and not a girl, that you'd almost be forgiven for cutting THE WOMAN IN CABIN 10 a lot of slack. Along with all the "girls" around there's also been a propensity for unlikeable protagonists, some of whom are unreliable - unknowingly or deliberately. Needless to say Lo Blacklock in THE WOMAN IN CABIN 10 is flawed, unsympathetic and seemingly highly unreliable. Or it could just be that she's a stressed out woman with a drinking problem and a long term requirement for anxiety and depression medication, without which unpredictable things happen.

The novel starts out with a home invasion / burglary in which Blacklock comes face to face with a masked intruder, surviving in part because she has a bedroom door that closes oddly. Pity that the survival instinct that kept her safe seemed to be somewhat missing when it came to her pet cat, but then she also happily tripped off on a sea voyage with a belated reminder to her mother to pick up / look after the cat whilst she was away. You're probably getting a hint on this reader's reaction to Blacklock about now.

Assuming that the burglary was solely aimed at upsetting / putting Blacklock off her game, because logically that's the only scenario that makes sense, the book opening and the amount of time devoted to her ... let's call it reaction ... does drag on. She spends an inordinate amount of time and energy obsessing over it, triggering what could only be described as a massive (and rather obviously required for plot elements to come) tantrum with her boyfriend, and then a huffy packing of bags and a jaunt on a super posh, special luxury cruise, courtesy of a boss / colleague who can't go. Dinner, drinking, a restricted cast of characters, and the oddity of a woman in the cabin next door who appeared, lent Blacklock a mascara and then disappears ensue. Odd noises were heard, physical indications go missing, and Blacklock's testimony is easily called into question because of the alcohol consumed, the pills in full view, she comes across as highly strung and on it goes. Obviously this missing woman wasn't supposed to exist in the first place, as is confirmed by an interminable amount of wandering about looking at a very limited number of potential candidates. Now you're probably realising this reader had a bit of a hump up with the plot as well.

There's lots of comparisons between this novel and the stylings of Agatha Christie - the queen of the locked room mystery. Without the artistically arranged body in the drawing room, which is possibly where things get sticky. Problem one is in over-egging the pudding with a non-existent victim, who obviously isn't and despite a final twist in the tail, not that hard to work out where the initial finger of suspicion should be pointing. Problem two is then overdoing the whole "oh look Blacklock's just not being believed by anybody because she's ... flawed" bit. The final problems are then excessive repetition, pointless meandering, and a tendency to overblow aftermath rather than actual threat or event, making it too easy for reader impatience and nitpicking to set in.

It could be that some of the plot flaws and the overblown characterisation would have been less obvious had any sense of pace and threat be maintained. There's only so many times you can be told that a security guard doesn't believe Blacklock; and her fellow passengers, who are a very rum lot into the bargain, are trying to shaft her - personally and professionally (which might or might not be her paranoia). Then there's the burglary that never goes away, obviously indicating the world is out to get her (or she's over-reacting because she's got anxiety / depression issues). Add to this all the whinging about nobody believing the disappearance (with the clue screaming "look at me" that even she's wilfully ignoring) and THE WOMAN IN CABIN 10 became a chore to read. Even the twist in the tail, by the time it arrived, had lost a heap of sting and ended up feeling too cute / stick it to the man, to be palatable. 

Year of Publication

In this tightly wound, enthralling story reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s works, Lo Blacklock, a journalist who writes for a travel magazine, has just been given the assignment of a lifetime: a week on a luxury cruise with only a handful of cabins. The sky is clear, the waters calm, and the veneered, select guests jovial as the exclusive cruise ship, the Aurora, begins her voyage in the picturesque North Sea. At first, Lo’s stay is nothing but pleasant: the cabins are plush, the dinner parties are sparkling, and the guests are elegant. But as the week wears on, frigid winds whip the deck, gray skies fall, and Lo witnesses what she can only describe as a dark and terrifying nightmare: a woman being thrown overboard. The problem? All passengers remain accounted for—and so, the ship sails on as if nothing has happened, despite Lo’s desperate attempts to convey that something (or someone) has gone terribly, terribly wrong…

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Karen Chisholm
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