The Woman in Cabin 10 definitely intrigued me, but at the same time pushed me away—I was not into Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train. I expect so much more from my books than what those offered. The characters were flat and I figured out the plots easily. I thought there would be more of a twist, or an extra twist, but no, there wasn’t. I want to be challenged when I read a book!
I know I’m in the minority with my dislike of these bestsellers and honestly it’s great that those books sold so well—so many people reading! So much money being pumped into great imprints like Riverhead, who was able to springboard new ideas and new innovations, probably due a lot to the wild success of Hawkins’ book. I love that.
But what to do? Do I continue to read these types of books that don’t really get me excited about the depth and potential of crime fiction, or do I become ignorant of what the masses of pop culture are reading? A bit of both I suppose. (You won’t catch me with a copy of 50 Shades if you catch my drift…)
So after reading all the rave reviews for In a Dark, Dark Wood but being a bit hesitant to read it, I finally came around, bought both Ware’s books and plunged in. I decided to start with Cabin 10, though I generally read books in chronological order when it comes to situations like this (it took me so long to get to The Goldfinch because I decided I HAD to find hardcover copies of her other two books and read those first), for some reason, Cabin 10 spoke to me. And with books, you gotta go with your gut.
Here’s the brief synopses:
The Woman in Cabin 10: Lo, a journalist, is invited on a new private cruise ship to bring some media attention to the boat. She has been mostly ignored at her job, so this could be her big break. On her first night there, she borrows mascara from a woman in the cabin next to her, cabin 10.
Later that night after dinner and plenty of drinks, she returns to her room and hears something—or someone—being thrown over the side from cabin 10. She alerts security, who goes over to search the room with her, but it is spotless. No one was even registered to that room, but she knows she saw the woman there earlier.
Lo thinks the woman has been killed and of course no one believes her story. She’s trapped on a boat with a murderer—it could be any one of the guests or crew.
In a Dark, Dark Wood: Nora hasn’t heard from her college friend Clare in years but from out of the blue she gets invited to Clare’s hen-do (British for bachelorette party) at a cabin in the woods. Despite her misgivings, she decides to go.
But there are secrets and old feelings that come up and the weekend getaway is going to take a dark turn, one that lands Nora in the hospital not remembering what happened. Can she put the pieces back together and figure out what went wrong?
After having read both, I definitely enjoyed Cabin 10 more than the debut novel, but I can see what the appeal of Dark Wood was when it came out. These are more experiential and reactionary than intellectual, which is great. It is good to have a mix of what you read.
They are fun, easy reads, perfect for beaches, weekend trips, casual readers, and anyone who is into light reading with a touch of scary intrigue. They were basically one-sitting books for me—I honestly raced through them, because I wanted to find out if all my theories were right!
Ware is great at evoking a tone and creating a leading character that is relatable, fallible, and human. Both books focus on a central female lead who is thrust from a position of relative security into an unknown situation that rapidly deteriorates around her. She is a bit of a loner, a quiet writer type, someone who is very introspective and not much given to action.
The main, glaringly obvious fault for me was that Lo and Nora were the same person. The way they spoke, acted, thought, even the very specific way they took their coffee all made me think they were so obviously created by the same person, who was writing a bit of herself into her protagonists.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with drawing from life to write characters, but it shows a weakness to me that these characters are so similar. It makes me wonder if Ware is capable of creating a different type of heroine, of writing a different sort of narrative.
Which brings me to the format. Both of these narratives are basically locked-room mysteries. The characters are all stuck together in one space and can’t or don’t leave until something happens to release them.
At the cabin, Nora and her only ally Nina keep each other there—it’s just a weekend, we just have to make it through the weekend, they say. On the cruise ship, Lo is physically trapped. She can’t leave because they are stranded in the middle of the ocean where no one can hear them scream.
Both books also employ flash-forwards in the narrative to mix up the reader and elevate tension. I think this technique was handled more deftly in Cabin 10, which uses press-like clippings at the end of each chapter that disorient the reader and cause dread; based on the content of the clippings we don’t know if Lo will survive the book or not.
There are lots of little details placed all throughout the text that are there if you want to unravel the mystery. Especially in Dark Wood, I thought they were obvious as road signs—every detail in that book is there for a reason. Seriously. Talk about a Chekov’s gun. Sheesh.
And all that talk about her past and seemingly throwaway dialogue bits that get boring when Tom is just talking about himself contains important pieces to the mystery of whodunit. You can figure it out! Because nothing action-y or scary really happens for so much of the book, it’s easy to get complacent. But all those hints are there.
In Cabin 10, it is much of the same, but I think the details are hidden better among the larger cast of characters. Everyone is suspicious. Lo has to investigate on her own. With the crime happening up front, there is more room to play with the rest of the plot. And, Ware leaves a few things for the reader to either find or not find—which I truly admire. Spelling out everything like at the end of a Scooby-Doo episode is not an ideal way to end your book.
I don’t dismiss a book as bad just because I figured out the twist or the secret. That is what makes these types of mystery/thrillers fun; I want to be able to figure out what happened before the characters get to the finish.
It is even better when there are pieces I didn’t figure out, little surprises still left that I missed. There should be enough clues left in the text—smartly—that I could figure it out if I was really looking. That type of interactive reading is so much fun. But I don’t think it should be easy. I don’t like to feel like an idiot as a reader, like an author thought that I wouldn’t get it.
I felt like a savvy Sherlock Holmes when I discovered I’d been right about the plots of these two books—such a good feeling! You don’t get that from reading any other type of book. It’s so fun to solve a mystery like that and I guess that’s why I keep coming back for more thrillers like these.
Overall, these books are definitely a lot of fun and I recommend the second one. If you are looking for something that isn’t especially taxing intellectually, but that you can really sink your teeth into, either of these will do the trick.
Get your copy of The Woman in Cabin 10
Get your copy of In a Dark, Dark Wood
Find out more about the author, Ruth Ware
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Find out more about the publisher, Scout Press (Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster)
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Associate editor, amateur photdographer, bibliophile, and occasional sleuth.