By Paula Hawkins | Riverhead Books, 386 pages | $28
review: Marla Cantrell
After reading Paula Hawkins’ Girl on a Train, the runaway hit that sold 20 million copies in 2015 and was made into a movie the following year, I was eager to get my hands on Into the Water.
This thriller is set in Beckford, an eerie river town in Britain, and the site of several drownings of local women over the years, many of which are widely believed to be suicides. Nel Abbott, a local writer, photographer, and mom to teenage Lena is working on a book about the deaths when she becomes the latest drowning victim. After her body is discovered, there are two major schools of thought: either she’d accidentally fallen after drinking too much, or she’d killed herself.
The tragedy comes shortly after Nel’s daughter Lena’s best friend, Katie, filled her backpack with rocks and walked into the river for the last time. Katie’s death shattered her family and friends, and now her mother walks the trail near the river daily, carrying her sorrow like a burden. All that ruminating makes her realize she didn’t know her daughter as well as she thought, that it’s impossible to really know anyone other than yourself. A former officer, elderly and respected, frequents the same area, tending an abandoned cottage and dealing with the realization that his mind is slipping.
Beckford is a small town, and gossip flows swiftly. Some of the most disturbing stories come from the town psychic, an old woman with a disreputable past who claims the drowning victims still talk to her. She is ridiculed by and large, but finally, Nel’s estranged sister, Jules, begins to listen. She’s looking for any answer that will tell her what happened to her sister. And as she discovers more about who her sister was in the years when they didn’t speak, it becomes evident that Nel did not take her own life. Before the murder is solved, Jules’ niece Lena goes missing.
If the storyline sounds complicated, please know that this is just the tip of the iceberg. The novel starts with a prologue that doesn’t make sense until you’ve gotten further into the book. Plus, the novel is narrated by eleven characters. Eleven! Since I read the book in just a few days, I was able to keep the characters straight for the most part, but it did feel like work occasionally.
Having said that, it is worth the read. Hawkins is a talented writer, and the tension builds as secret after secret is unearthed. The biggest surprise, other than the identity of the killer, was that it was so different from Girl on a Train, which had its twists but whose plot was easy to follow. This one takes a little more concentration, but the momentum will keep you reading. If you’re looking for a book to take on vacation, pack Into the Water. Just keep it as far ashore as you can. Trust me, you’ll feel better that way.