The Woman in Cabin 10 | Ruth Ware | 2016, Pb 2017 | Harvill Secker | 344p | Review and bought copy | Buy the book
Travel journalist Lo Blacklock needs to get away. A terrifying experience has left her feeling vulnerable and traumatised. Lo’s private life is also reaching a point at which decisions need to be made. Fortunately, Lo’s senior colleague has pulled out of the dream job – a week’s cruise aboard the small luxury liner Aurora in the company of its owners, Lord and Lady Bullmer, and a select group of travel writers, photographers, explorers and potential investors. The cruise is heading north, sailing around Norway in search of the Northern Lights, a sight that everybody, Lord Bullmer insists, should see at least once in their lives. But this is a cruise that will prove memorable for reasons far more sinister.
The cruise is a grand affair, its dinners formal, the cabins large and the highlights generous, such as the spa treatments, organised talks and cocktail receptions. But on the very first night, soon after the introductory dinner, Lo is awoken by a disturbance in the next cabin. She hears a splash and, when she rushes out on to her veranda, Lo is convinced that she sees a hand slipping into the black sea, a smear of blood on the next cabin’s veranda door. But when, panicked and frightened, Lo raises the alarm, nobody takes her seriously. Why should they? There never was a passenger in cabin 10, there is no sign of a fight, no blood on the door. And rumours are spreading around the ship that Lo’s recent bad experience at home might have left her a little ‘unstable’.
And so begins Lo’s determined and increasingly desperate struggle to find out what happened to the woman in cabin 10 as well as who she was. This is a small ship, with only ten cabins and a small crew berthed below decks. Lo must get to know them all, all too aware that someone on the ship is a killer and that they must know that she is after them. But out here at sea there’s nowhere to run.
In The Woman in Cabin 10 author Ruth Ware presents a very tidy, atmospheric and tense murder mystery. The number of suspects are few. There is only one location and it is cut off from the outside world. Each of the guests, and a fair few of the crew, has a history, while Lo’s own mental state is suspect. All of these factors help to create an Agatha Christie-esque Whodunnit made even more enjoyable by the well-written narrative and the tightly-structured plot. I particularly liked the extracts from social media and articles that are scattered throughout and are very effectively used, raising our sense of alarm.
I did guess a large part of the mystery well before the end but this didn’t spoil the read, there were plenty more twists and surprises to come, particularly for our heroine Lo. I grew to care for this young woman a great deal. I loved her mix of vulnerability and courage, her determination to do the right thing for another woman whose existence everyone else denies. The tension rises throughout, there are moments of real fear and the claustrophobia grows and grows as the cold, dark sea circles the liner.
I read The Woman in Cabin 10 on holiday and it was the perfect holiday read – as long as you’re not on a cruise that is.