Amazon Summary: Lo Blacklock, a journalist who writes for a travel magazine, has just been given the assignment of a lifetime: a week on a luxury cruise with only a handful of cabins. The sky is clear, the waters calm, and the veneered, select guests jovial as the exclusive cruise ship, the Aurora, begins her voyage in the picturesque North Sea. At first, Lo’s stay is nothing but pleasant: the cabins are plush, the dinner parties are sparkling, and the guests are elegant. But as the week wears on, frigid winds whip the deck, gray skies fall, and Lo witnesses what she can only describe as a dark and terrifying nightmare: a woman being thrown overboard. The problem? All passengers remain accounted for—and so, the ship sails on as if nothing has happened, despite Lo’s desperate attempts to convey that something (or someone) has gone terribly, terribly wrong…
This book has been on my TBR list for some time now as I consider myself a pretty dedicated fan of Ruth Ware. I have read many of her books leading up to this one, and so I was more than ready to break into one of her most popular reads.
That enthusiasm… did not last long.
Don’t get me wrong, I was able to stick with it for some time.
Like most of Ware’s novels, The Woman in Cabin 10 is excellently paced (well, mostly, we will get to that). Tensions are high, stakes are raised with each turn of the page. However, the biggest problem of the story, in my opinion, is what lead to its inevitable downfall: Lo Blacklock.
I realize this is a matter of opinion, but I personally found Lo to be a tedious narrator. At first, this isn’t that much of an issue. The events transpiring around her are enough to keep the reader invested in the story even if she is not a particularly enjoyable character. As the novel progresses, however, Lo goes from being unlikeable to being downright unbearable.
I tried to give her the benefit of a doubt. She’s a victim of a break-in and has been struggling with mental health issues for most of her adult life. Of course she’s going to be less amiable that she might otherwise be under normal circumstances. But even keeping that in mind, it’s difficult to see her as anything but an entitled lackwit without any sense of self-awareness.
This is especially evident in her behavior towards her boyfriend Judah before she made her departure and poor Nilsson, the head of security. Again, we will get to that.
I have said this a million times and I will say it again, I love flawed characters. But Lo isn’t just flawed, she’s also boring.
I don’t consider this much of a spoiler, but just in case you are wanting to keep completely spoiler-free, you might want to bow out now.
I can respect the fact that Ware was trying to show that you don’t necessarily have to have an inciting event or “reason” for having a mental health issues such as anxiety or depression. Sometimes that shit does just happen and there doesn’t necessarily have to be a tragic background story attached to every malady…..
I would argue that it helps the character be more interesting, and it gives us a reason to connect with them.
I think it would have been a wiser decision to make the break-in scene happen years prior to the story and make it something she’s had to work through for years rather than something that literally just happened. That’s just my opinion.
Regardless, I found myself struggling to find a reason to care about Lo beyond general pity for her status as a crime victim. There’s nothing that interesting or compelling about her as a person. She isn’t witty, her backstory doesn’t exist, and she comes across as….honestly, just kind of a shitty person. Even as she is struggling to help someone whom she perceives to be a victim, she still manages to come across as entitled know-it-all that couldn’t possibly be wrong about anything.
I can’t really divulge that much without giving anything away so–
While I was never a big fan of hers, my avid dislike of Lo began to rear its ugly head as soon as she is helped by the polite Nilsson, head of security who dares to question her mental state after she spent an entire night double-fisting cocktails.
Ware tries to make it seem as if Nilsson is in the wrong for questioning her because it is supposedly “discriminatory” against the mentally ill. He sees that she has been mixing alcohol with antidepressants and so that has lead him to come to the conclusion that she likely fabricated the whole thing unintentionally.
But consider this for a moment: if someone told you that a passenger was murdered and then thrown overboard from a cabin you knew nobody was staying in, and there was literally no physical evidence there was anyone there, and no other person witnessed this other than a woman who clearly went binge-drinking the night before, are you telling me you wouldn’t be just the tiniest bit skeptical of her claims? Especially when it comes out that she has recently been through a traumatic experience that left her an insomniac? And there is absolutely no one aboard the ship that fits her victim’s description?
From my perspective, Nilsson did nothing wrong. As a matter of fact, he went above and beyond by giving her a tour of the ship’s crew to look for familiar faces. He didn’t have to do this, but he did anyway, even after she threatened him.
I get that she is feeling cut off and paranoid after getting robbed, but at one point, she goes as far as to blame her ex (who is another journalist and passenger on the Aurora) for the murder without any real evidence other than the fact that he isn’t entirely honest with her about his nightly activities. From my perspective, it just looks like she isn’t entirely over their break-up and she’s grasping at straws.
For the first time in a long time….I was on the side of the murderer. Just, please, take this annoying bitch out of my life.
I was able to roll with the punches in so far as Lo’s annoying narration went, but only up until the big mystery of what truly happened aboard the Aurora is finally unravelled.
Once it’s revealed that the titular character is actually Anne the billionaire’s wife (or rather an Anne decoy) everything started to fall apart for me, mostly because there is no escape from Lo. She is trapped in a room below deck and so we have no reprieve from her derivative inner monologues.
Now that there was no mystery and no speculation as to who was involved and what could have explained what Lo saw…I just didn’t care anymore.
Normally, when a character is trapped and their future is uncertain I’m at the edge of my seat. In this case, however, I felt literally nothing.
I didn’t care if Carrie (the fake wife) and Richard (the douche billionaire) got away with it. I didn’t care if they didn’t.
It doesn’t help that, for whatever reason, I just didn’t buy this whole scenario.
I know that most Agatha Christie-like crimes are so damned intricate and over-the-top they border on laughable, but something about the crime itself struck me as being a bit far-fetched.
The, shall we say, “unconventional” relationship Lo develops with Carrie serves only to undercut a lot of the tension that should be present in these sorts of hostage/captor scenes. You would think Lo would absolutely despise Carrie. Not only did she trick her into a death-trap, but she made Lo crazy trying to avenge her death and bring her alleged murderer to justice. To the novel’s credit, she does hate Carrie at first. But then, she develops a quasi-Stockholm syndrome-like relationship with Carrie and tries to appeal to her better nature.
What is so gobsmackingly dumb about this is…it actually works.
I don’t want to assume I know why Ware decided to go with this approach, and it might be a bit presumptuous of me to interject my own theory, but, what the hell?
I think the reason Ware might have gone with this route is she subscribes to the idealogical belief in The Sisterhood. That is, she believes there is an unspoken, understood bond between all women that transcends race, creed, and class. In essence, we are all innately drawn to help each other in times of duress, especially where it concerns The Patriarchy. Even if we are on opposing sides, invariably our interests are aligned in defeating the obstacles in our lives.
I’m not saying women shouldn’t be predisposed to help other women, regardless of whether or not the roadblocks in their way have to do with men, but in this situation, I just do not buy it for a second.
In real life, Lo’s attempts would have landed her at the bottom of the ocean floor. Someone who is deluded enough in their relationship to throw a woman recovering from cancer into the sea is too far gone to be convinced to go to the other side.
Sure, Carrie didn’t want to be caught up in this murderous plot, but she is involved now and in way over her head. She’s looking at some serious jail time at best and murder at worst.
While it isn’t implausible to think that she would feel bad for Lo, I doubt she would be willing to cause actual injury to herself in order for Lo to go free and “get the bastard” for doing this to the both of them.
Damn, it sounds even more stupid just writing it out like this.
No, sorry, The Sisterhood angle of this story is a nonstarter for me.
Once Lo was officially out of the hold, I did what I have never done with a book before, something I normally consider to be sacrilege: I skipped to the end.
She gets away, the murderer dies or something and….who cares?
It is difficult to articulate just how disappointed with this novel I am. Ruth Ware is an excellent writer. She is able to create environments that make readers anxious and thrilled. Her pacing is unmatched and her dialogue, for the most part, is pretty snappy.
But this…was far from her best, and I’m surprised it is held in such high regard. She has written so many other novels that were much better than this: The Lying Game, The Death of Mrs. Westaway, The Turning of the Key, etc.
This is not on my recommended list.
If you are looking for a better mystery/thriller that takes place on a boat, I would suggest you check out Distress Signal by Catherine Ryan Howard.
Howard is also an incredibly talented writer that uses atmosphere and a fast-pace to keep reader’s interesting. To make things better, her main characters aren’t insufferable twats.
Though it brings me no joy, I consider this read a dismal 4/10.