Author Archives: Rosemary Wolfe, NoChargeBookbunch

About Rosemary Wolfe, NoChargeBookbunch

Avid reader; published writer; itinerant walker; experimental cook...

The Woman in Cabin 10

9781501132933_p0_v3_s192x300   Sometimes a scary novel is a welcome alternative to reality, and Ruth Ware has the right formula in The Woman in Cabin 10.  On the eve of the big political debate in the United States, with the two prospective Presidents ready to attack each other on live television, I found myself avoiding the front pages and the review sections of the New York Times, glancing at the arts section and opting instead to read Ware’s book – on the bestseller list now for weeks.   Starting slowly with a burglary and escalating quickly into a mystery thriller on an elite ocean liner, The Woman in Cabin 10 successfully delivered me from real political moments to a solvable mystery.

Although the narrator, journalist Lo Blacklock, fits the role of unreliable narrator with her alcoholic stupors, panic attacks, antidepressants, and general wide-eyed fawn caught in the headlights persona, the author’s description of the setting makes Blacklock’s accusations seem plausible.  You almost expect a dead body to come floating up from the depths of the ocean.

“When I got to the door that opened to the deck, a wall of gray greeted me behind the glass, blanketing the ship in its folds so you could barely see from one end of the deck to the other, giving a strange, muffled feeling.  The mist had brought a chill to the air, fogging the hairs on my arms with drizzle, and as I stood uncertainly in the lee of the doorway, shivering and trying to get my bearings, I heard the long, mournful boom of a fog horn.”

Blacklock is convinced a woman has been thrown overboard on her first night at sea, and suspects passengers, including her ex-boyfriend, as well as the crew.  Her story seems to be the traumatic aftereffect of the burglary in her apartment the night before she sailed; no one is missing on the ship, and clues that appear only to Blacklock could be dismissed as her imagination or hysteria.  Was there ever a woman in Cabin 10?

To add to the confusion, Ware inserts missives projecting forward to the end of the cruise, but in the middle of the action and as Blacklock continues with her narrative – news, after the cruise has docked, proclaiming the disappearance of Blacklock from the ship and the finding of a dead woman’s body washed ashore.  The reader knows Blacklock is still alive because her narrative continues and the next shock will give you Vertigo.  No spoilers here but let me know if you get my reference after you read the book.

In a combination of Agatha Christie and O’Henry, Ware manages to tie up all the loose threads at the end of the book and provide a surprise ending.  A great read – fast and furious, I read it in a sitting – thankfully, not before I went to bed.

As for the great debate tomorrow, now I know it can’t be as scary nor as satisfying as Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10.

Related Review:  In a Dark Dark Wood

 

Road Ends by Mary Lawson

9780345808097_p0_v2_s192x300  Like Mary Lawson’s other books, Crow Lake and her Man Booker nominee The Other Side of the Bridge, the action in Road Ends is in the cold remote area of North Canada, where winters are long and hard, a setting conducive to unforgiving introspection.  The narrative of Road Ends is compelling, and you are sad for almost everyone.

The story revolves around Megan, the only girl in a family of seven brothers.   As the second oldest and only girl, Megan has been running the household almost since she could walk; now at twenty-one, she is ready to leave to start her own life in London.

Although Lawson creates a supporting cast, the strong narrative develops from Megan, her father Edward, and oldest son, Tom, with their thoughts and perspectives in alternating chapters.  Megan’s mother, Emily, literally wanders in and out of the story, always with a baby on her shoulder, as she drifts into dementia and tries to find her own comfort in the steady stream of newborns.

Edward, lost in his shattered dreams, hides from the family chaos by retreating to his study to read about exotic places he has never been.  While two of his sons are toying with arson and his four year old, Adam, is wetting the bed, Edward is purposely oblivious.  His avoidance supposedly stems from his abusive father, his childhood in poverty, a fatal fire, and the war, but it’s hard not to want to shake him into accepting responsibility for his family – beyond being the breadwinner.

Tom, who graduated with a degree in aeronautical engineering, is frozen in grief and guilt when his best friend commits suicide.  He foregoes promising job offers and returns home to run the town’s snowplow through the incessant and constant snowstorms.  Slowly, he emerges from his fog – prompted by the needs of his four year old brother, a neglected little boy, who wanders around his house unbathed and hungry, because his mother’s attention is fixated on yet another infant, her ninth.

Megan is the catalyst for the family’s decline.  Without her, everything falls apart, but it seems to take awhile before anyone notices, despite the dirty house, the empty refrigerator, and the piles of dirty clothes.  After landing in London, she stumbles on a job in a department store but finds it boring.  Eventually, she connects with a couple who are opening a new hotel and are looking for someone to help with the renovation and management of the housekeeping.  Ironically, Megan is happier working at the hotel,  doing a job strangely similar to the one she had at home with her family.

The ending is somewhat disappointing if you are a romantic and expect Megan to find true love and an exciting career in a new life across the sea.  Her choices are predicable and realistic; there is some escape from the bonds of family in this story for the boys, but sadly not for Megan.  Nevertheless, Lawson manages to project a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment for her main character.

I found phrases I noted down to remember, as I did with her other novels, but laughed out loud in recognition when I read Tom’s commentary:

“There’s a law of nature…that says you should never, ever allow yourself to think for a single minute that things are finally getting better because Fate just won’t be able to resist cutting you off at the knees.”

Related Reviews:

Killer Books – You Will Know Me and Dear Mr. M

If you are feeling withdrawal from The Girl on the Train, two thrillers may help you sort through your need for psychological suspense.

9780316231077_p0_v2_s192x300   You Will Know Me

Did the Greeks have the modern formula in mind when they prepared for the Olympics?  In Megan Abbott’s thriller You Will Know Me, the author uses girls’ gymnastics as the focus for yet another  unreliable narrator with a killing secret.

The story envelopes the reader in a family’s ambition to see daughter, Devon, rise to the top, with financial and psychological cost to both her and her family.  Only the younger brother, Drew, seems unscathed until later in the plot, when he too becomes an unlikely and silent victim.  As mother Katie tells the tale, she notes three pieces of the story driving the eerie plot: a lawn mower accident with her three year old daughter’s foot, cutting off her toes; her daughter’s fall at the end of a competition; and the pit in the renovated gym, bringing a handsome lover into their lives.

Although finding the killer keeps the suspense, the lives of the young gymnasts and their hovering parents may be more frightening.

9781410491572_p0_v1_s192x300   Dear Mr. M

Herman Koch once again managed to scare me in the first fifty pages, with the promise of more eerie episodes yet to be explored.  I still shiver when I think of reading The Dinner and Summer House With a Swimming Pool.  I may wait to read Mr. M another time, but here is the short summary, if you are up to it.  When the book opens, Mr. M is being stalked by his neighbor who has a mysterious connection to his past.

“Once a celebrated writer, M had his greatest success with a suspense novel based on a real-life disappearance. It told the story of a history teacher who went missing one winter after having a brief affair with a beautiful student of his. The teacher was never found. Upon publication, M’s novel was a runaway bestseller, one that marked his international breakthrough.” Kirkus

 

 Reviews of Other Herman Koch books:

Related Reviews:

 

 

Diverting Into Nonfiction

Although I incline toward fiction, my stack of books has surprisingly diverted to nonfiction lately.  The real world awaits.

unknown unknown-1unknown-2unknown-3unknown-4unknown-6

 

Have you read any of them?

  • The Perfect Horse by Elizabeth Letts

The saving of the Lipizzaner horses in world War II

  • The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer

Preservation of famous ancient manuscripts

  • The Bestseller Code by Jodie Archer and Matthew L. Jockers

How to write one

  • Rise of the Rocket Girls by Natalia Holt

Women  scientists of World War II

  • Boys in the Boat by Daniel Brown

1936 Olympics quest for gold

  • West of Eden: An American Place by Jean Stein

Oral history of Hollywood

  • Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterley

Black women mathematicians at NASA

Cousin Joseph by Jules Feiffer

9781631490651_p0_v1_s192x300  From his illustrations for Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth to his comic strip in The Village Voice, Jules Feiffer has been artfully speaking out for a long time, but I did not realize he penned  his latest – Cousin Joseph – at the age of eighty-seven.  This graphic novel subliminally notes issues of anti-seminitsm and corrupt policemen – you may even laugh now and then at the satire – well, maybe smirk – at how close Feiffer gets to the truth.

With a Humphrey Bogart swagger, the key character, Detective Sam Hannigan, follows the noir film formula, and the story has the action and violence of noir style pulp fiction.  Is cousin Joseph his anti-conscience?

“The year is 1931. Det. Sam Hannigan is a proud American and a member of fictional Bay City’s finest. When he and his partner aren’t fighting crime or getting their “Red Squad” to suppress the local trade unions, he’s off to do the bidding of the mysterious Cousin Joseph, an unidentified bigwig who wants to rid Hollywood of what he considers anti-American propaganda films. Soon, Sam finds himself in over his head and on both sides of the law as he tries to keep track of the various forces at work against him. ”  Publishers Weekly

Sam has an epiphany – too late to save him – when he sees Uncle Joseph for who he really is, but it’s scary to think Uncle Joseph is still out there today, drawing in those who are not on guard.

Recently, a friend brought an old Classics Comics to a book discussion of “The Woman in White,” and many of us were nostalgic about the genre.  Comic books have morphed into graphic novels, with Feiffer’s illustrations and dialogue adding social and political commentary – a field he knows well.