Doubleday | 2017 (2 May) | 368p | Review copy | Buy the book
When Nel Abbott is found drowned, her fifteen-year-old daughter Lena is left almost entirely alone. Her best friend Katie drowned in the same stretch of river just a few months before. Lena can hardly fathom that her mother has shared the same fate. But this bit of river in the village of Beckford is known as the Drowning Pool – women have drowned here for years, sometimes by suicide, but also by the hand of others.
Nel’s sister Jules comes to Beckford to look after her niece, and at first neither are happy about it. Jules and Nel had been estranged for many years for reasons that one sister kept quiet while the other could never understand why. The small community of Beckford is grievously troubled by yet another death in the Drowning Pool. For many it stirs up the past, bringing back painful memories of their own losses in the water. As Jules and Lena are thrown into the heart of the village’s trauma, they come to understand how far the hurt has spread and that the significance – and pull – of the Drowning Pool is as dangerous and powerful as ever.
I don’t think there are too many people now who haven’t read Paula Hawkins’ previous novel The Girl on the Train and, while I was one of those with mixed feelings about that book (review), I was so looking forward to reading Into the Water. I’m glad I did. I think that Into the Water is a cleverer thriller than The Girl on the Train, its mystery more satisfying and complex, and its characters better developed. Its structure is also ambitious and very effective.
The story of Into the Water is told from a number of different perspectives. We hear from a whole range of different people and the narrative includes first, second and third person. While I initially found it difficult to keep track of the many different voices, by the middle third of the novel I was completely caught up in the lives of its people. This movement of narrative allows us to venture deeply into these characters’ motivations, feelings and fears. There are a range of agendas at work here and so the struggle to find the truth about why so many troubled women have had their lives ended in the Drowning Pool is never straightforward. As a result we have twists and red herrings galore.
We meet lots of different people but a fair few who stand out, notably Nel’s daughter Lena, the police officer Erin, and Katie’s distraught mother Louise. But all have interesting stories to tell and it’s easy to get caught up in them. Some, though, are darker than others and there are a few which are very dark indeed. Beckford is a place with many, many secrets. The reasons why it’s women who end up in the Drowning Pool and not men are deeply troubling.
Into the Water is a very well-written and intriguing mystery. It is undoubtedly dark and troubling, overshadowed by grief, loss and cruelty. There is little relief from its mood. But it is also extremely thought-provoking and compelling. No single character dominates. Instead, it is the women who lost their lives in the Drowning Pool who haunt these pages, demanding our attention as justice and vengeance are sought.
The Girl on the Train