Last summer I discovered author Ruth Ware whose debut novel In a Dark, Dark Wood made quite an impact in crime fiction in a year that had been mainly dominated by the success of The Girl on the Train. Back then I knew Ware was writing her second novel, to be published by Harvill Secker in 2016. Imagine my surprise when I was one of the lucky bloggers to get an advanced review copy of The Woman in Cabin 10, Ruth Ware’s second novel out on the 30th June 2016.
The Woman in Cabin 10 follows In a Dark, Dark Wood‘s focus on a young, white woman who tells the story in the first person. Laura “Lo” Blacklock is a young travel journalist living in London who finds a stranger ransacking her flat late one night. Even though the intruder does not cause her any physical harm on purpose, she had drunk a lot that night and she finds herself unable to draw a clear line between fact and fiction, or so she thinks. A few days later she is supposed to board the Aurora Borealis, a super luxurious cruise for the 1%, and write a report, do some networking and fight for a promotion. As the cruise set sails from Hull to Norway and Lo realises she has left her mascara at home, she borrows some from the woman in the cabin next to hers. After dinner, and a bit drunk again, she returns to her cabin where she hears a splash on the water and comes out to her private balcony to find a big smear of blood on the glass separating the balconies. But the cruise security informs her the cabin has been empty since they set sail. Did Lo really hear the splash and saw the blood, or is she just suffering from PTSD?
Ware’s second novel fits into the neo-domestic noir tradition of lately, with an unreliable female narrator. However, these neo-domestic noir novels are doing much more for female characters than they seem to by portraying the supposedly unsuitability of young women for crime narratives. Like Rachel and Nora, Lo knows that she is not the best of witnesses, but at least she is one. The corpus delicti – the requirement of someone having witnessed a crime and not the presence of a corpse, like it is usually interpreted – is a gendered jurisprudence, and women are, more often than not, seen as unreliable witnesses and even victims. So, how does this affect women in fiction and in real life? How come many rape victims decide to not come forward for fear of not being believed? Thankfully contemporary crime fiction is calling attention to this gender-biased and it is forcing modern audiences to rethink their assumptions about women and crime.
The Woman in Cabin 10 is also very aware of the crime fiction tradition to which it belongs, and Ware not only plays with the role of women in crime fiction, but with more formal features. After all, a crime committed in a small, closed space pays homage to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and the locked room mystery. Ware updates this tradition so that it feels fresh, while keeping a line-up of exotic and bizarre characters that make Lo feel alienated and tricked. After all, not everyone belongs to the 1%. So, although the novel is quite dark and the alcohol and the cruise confer the text a dizziness that easily affects the reader, Lo’s rich and extravagant fellow passengers offer a quirky and funny tone to the novel.
In short, The Woman in Cabin 10 clearly shows the evolution of Ware as a contemporary crime writer, and it is a thrilling read for neo-noir fans this next summer. However, Ware’s novels are darker than they seem, being a bit overwhelming – in the way excellent crime fiction is. After In a Dark, Dark Wood was picked up by Reese Witherspoon for production, I can’t wait to see what the Hollywood stars will do regarding The Woman in Cabin 10. I would not think it twice.
In case I haven’t convinced you yet, you can read an extract from the book thanks to DeadGood Books here.
The Woman in Cabin 10 is out on the 30th of June 2016 in the UK.