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The Woman in Cabin 10

Ruth Ware

By Nora Levine
Published: Jan 25, 2017
Category: Fiction

GUEST BUTLER NORA LEVINE owns the literary mystery/thriller corner of this site. That’s my good fortune — I can’t read everything — and yours too. Nora introduced us — well, me, anyway — to Tana French and started many of you reading the Maisie Dobbs books. In her real life, she says, “I was a law librarian until it wasn’t so much fun. Now I edit my husband’s briefs (the legal type) in Oakland, California.” Her first reaction to this book: “a guilty pleasure. Gave me nightmares, but I kept turning the pages. Great plane read.”

At a moment (and it could be a long one) when the need for distraction is at a record high, we’re blessed with a tempting selection of talented contemporary mystery and crime novelists — Kate Atkinson, Gillian Flynn, Tana French, Karen Perry, Ann Cleeves.

With two addictive psychological “locked room” mysteries to her name, we can add British novelist Ruth Ware to our list.

Her debut novel, “In a Dark, Dark Wood,” about a bridesmaid’s weekend in a snowy cabin gone terribly wrong, was shortlisted, nominated, awarded both in the U.K. and the U.S, and optioned by Reese Witherspoon. [To buy the paperback of “In a Dark, Dark Wood” from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]

Her second novel, “The Woman in Cabin 10,” released last year, was quickly added to many “best” lists, and rights to it have been sold in 25 countries. [To buy the book from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]

Heady success, but deserved. “The Woman in Cabin 10” is an entertaining blend of troubled protagonist (long history of anxiety, insomnia, hangovers and some post-burglary paranoia), imaginative setting (the maiden voyage of a boutique yacht sailing the Norwegian fjords) and an uncertain crime (how can the woman in Cabin 10 be dead if no one else on board will acknowledge there ever was a woman in Cabin 10.)

Lo Blacklock is a London travel journalist, though she’s pretty far down on the masthead of Velocity. An opportunity to attend a presser on an inaugural voyage of the ten-cabin cruise ship, The Aurora, falls into her lap. The weekend before the trip she’s the victim of a home invasion robbery that leaves her slightly injured and extremely rattled:

“I had to get myself together before I left for this trip. It was an unmissable, unrepeatable opportunity to prove myself after ten years at the coalface of boring cut-and-paste journalism. This was my chance to show I could hack it – could network and schmooze — and get Velocity’s name in there with the high fliers.”

But from her first moment on board, Lo is off her game. The yacht, even more luxurious than advertised, is also claustrophobic, over-decorated and disorienting in scale. The guest list is comprised of people either daunting or boring or both – and an old boyfriend with whom things ended badly is among them. She’s had no time to read the press materials. Her current boyfriend has just flown to Moscow for work, and the ship’s Wi-Fi isn’t working, so no email or texts are possible. Still rattled and on edge from the attack back home, Lo easily convinces herself someone entered the suite while she was showering. The unlimited mini-bar gin doesn’t help.

When dressing for the first evening’s dinner, Lo borrows mascara from the woman in the next cabin. The exchange between them is brief. Preoccupied with meeting the other guests (while downing too much wine), Lo never sees her at dinner, but doesn’t give it much thought. After returning from dinner, unable to sleep, Lo gets up to read:

“But although I tried to concentrate on the words, something niggled at the corner of my mind. Why did I keep thinking of a scream?…. I was turning the page when I heard the noise of the veranda door in the next cabin sliding gently open. And then there was a splash. Not a small splash. No, this was a big splash. The kind of splash made by a body hitting water.”

If Lo thought she was off her game, things are only about to get worse. Although she immediately reports the event, no one on board has any record of a guest in Cabin 10, and there’s no evidence in the cabin to prove otherwise.

This isn’t the first novel in which the witness to a crime is found not credible, and Lo isn’t the finest witness, considering the psychological baggage she’s brought on board. That dynamic adds satisfyingly to the increasing tension. The steward and purser and owner listen to her story; none take her seriously. Lo continues investigating the guests and crew on her own, never certain if any is trustworthy. And just when she thinks she sees the woman from Cabin 10 again, and follows her down the corridor…

“I came to alone, lying on a bunk with a thin blanket over me…Propping myself up against the wall, I made my way unsteadily back towards the door, but I knew before I tried it that it was useless. It was locked.”

Lo, in a locked cabin, on a small ship, somewhere amidst the fjords. A locked room mystery as addictive as that mini-bar gin.