From New York Times bestselling author of the “twisty-mystery” (Vulture) novel In a Dark, Dark Wood, comes The Woman in Cabin 10, an equally suspenseful novel from Ruth Ware—this time, set at sea.
In this tightly wound story, 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. 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 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…
With surprising twists and a setting that proves as uncomfortably claustrophobic as it is eerily beautiful, Ruth Ware offers up another intense read.
My love the classic Christie mysteries is well-known, and when I had the chance to hear Ruth Ware talk about her second book, The Woman in Cabin 10 during the recent IFOA presentations, I knew it was right up my alley. Locked room mystery? Strong female protagonist? Mysterious disappearance aboard a luxury yacht? Fabulously exotic locale? Great twists and turns and a healthy dose of red herrings? Total mystery catnip, my friends.
What I didn’t expect to find was a great mystery that also tackles the age-old problem of male characters minimizing or gas lighting female character into not trusting their instincts. I won’t say much about the plot beyond what is mentioned in the blurb because I truly feel that you need to experience it yourself in order to fully engage with the story. The characterization of Lo is one of the best-written females I’ve read in a long time, and her strength, determination and even her un-likeability at times worked for me. From the beginning, when Lo is struggling to deal with recently having an intruder in her flat and trying to prepare for her first night on the yacht, she refuses to give in to her fears:
Was this going to be what it was like? Was I turning into someone who had panic attacks about walking home from the tube or staying the night alone in the house without her boyfriend.
No, f*ck that, I would not be that person.
There was a bathrobe on the back of the bathroom door, and I swathed it hastily around myself and then took a deep, shaking breath.
I would not be that person.
I opened the bathroom door, my heart beating so hard and fast that I was seeing stars in my vision.
Do not panic, I thought fiercely.
Her determination comes to the forefront again when she is dealing with the security officer, Nilsson and trying to explain what she saw in the night. As he continually attempts to rebuff her accusations – she’s tired, she was drunk, she was taking medication, she was sleep-deprived and more – she calls him out on it at every turn. I had a hell of a lot of respect for her character after that, even as she owned her anxiety diagnosis and her residual PTSD after the break-in at her flat.
“Miss Blacklock – “
“No. No, you don’t get to do this.”
“Don’t get to do what?”
“Call me “Miss Blacklock” one minute, tell me you respect my concerns and I’m a valued passenger blah blah blah, and then the next minute brush me off like a hysterical female who didn’t see what she saw.”
“I don’t – ” he started, but I cut him off, too angry to listen.
“You can’t have it both ways. […]”
When Nilsson brings up that he’s talked to Lo’s ex, who is also on the cruise, and that Ben has revealed personal details about her mental health, Lo loses it completely with both the security officer and with her ex, and with justification. I will fully admit to cheering as she told them off in explicit detail. She isn’t necessarily polite or kind or “nice”, but nor should she be in this scenario. She doesn’t let her anxiety and stress deter her from continuing to find out what happened, even as someone leaves threats for her and destroys valuable evidence. The tension builds with each chapter, and I found myself guessing who might be involved along with Lo.
This is most definitely a suspense novel in the vein of a well-loved Christie or Daphne DuMaurier novel, with a classic mystery outline, complete with an unreliable narrator and some claustrophobic suspense-filled moments. Everyone on board is a suspect, and we are kept guessing with Lo right up until the reveal. What I liked about this was the vintage feel to the story, even though it was clearly a present-day mystery. A malfunctioning modem was all that was needed to logically remove the worldwide internet/connection aspect, and we felt the on-board isolation as much as our protagonist. There are several interspersed emails and messages at certain points that add to the suspense, but for me, nothing beat the slowly dawning horror of realization that the culprit must be among those on board, and that there was no escape.
For me, this is the next great read in what is being termed “domestic thrillers” – well paced stories with a strong female protagonist, classic mystery feel and a fabulously unsettling trip to the fjords of Norway that may have you wanting to call your travel agent (but only if it doesn’t involve a luxury cruise!). This is the perfect winter read, especially with the dark winter days adding to the claustrophobic suspense. If you don’t have it on your TBR list, I would strongly recommend adding it as soon as possible!
The Woman in Cabin 10 is such a suspenseful narrative – from the confined space to the limited list of suspects, there’s an intimacy that adds great depth to the narrative. In fact, both the Woman in Cabin 10 and In a Dark, Dark Wood have people who are contained in isolation in some way. What do you think it is about isolation that makes us so unsettled? Did you set out to write a “locked room” mystery in your second book?
I’m not sure if I set out to write it, but I think I was definitely influenced by some of the early reviews of In a Dark, Dark Wood, and the frequent references to Agatha Christie’s locked room narratives. I think all that was in the forefront of my mind when I was plotting Cabin 10 and probably affected how it came out – that feeling of stifled luxury is definitely pilfered from books like Death on the Nile and Murder on the Orient Express.
One of the things that I loved at The Woman in Cabin 10 was how fiercely Lo fights back against the perception that she is ‘hysterical’ or making things up because she is female/taking antidepressants/has had a bad experience. How important was it for you to show her strength and her intelligence even as she struggles with her own fears?
Oh, hugely important. One of the big influences on the book was the number of he said / she said cases that were in the news as I was writing it, and I was getting more and more unsettled by the way that society evaluates people’s first hand evidence. It seemed to me, as I was writing, that if you were a woman, and specifically if you were a young, drunk woman, you were right at the bottom of the heap in how seriously people took your account of things. I wanted to write someone who fitted that description – and hopefully make readers question their own preconceptions. It’s interesting to me how often Lo is described as an “unreliable narrator”. I don’t think she is unreliable in the least. She’s very straight up in her account.
I find that one of the best-selling points for your books lies in the creation of your characters. Leonora and Lo are women that we can either identify with ourselves, or that we see in our friends in coworkers. Do you “see” people you know in the characters that you write, even in small pieces, or are they independent of real-life connections in your mind?
I am definitely a bit of a magpie – I think all writers are. I would never put a person lock stock and barrel into a book because I don’t think that would be fair, and I don’t think it would work anyway, characters have a way of running away with you and becoming their own person, even when you imagine them going one way, they surprise you and turn the other. But for sure, I have stolen words, or characteristics, or habits from people I know, or even just strangers I’ve watched interacting on the street.
And of course they all have a little bit of me in them – I don’t think I could write a character, however evil or quixotic, that I didn’t understand and sympathize with on some level.
But none of them ARE any one person, and my characters almost always end up surprising me in some way – even the minor ones.
So I guess both answers are true in a way – I do see bits of other people in them, just as you see characteristics of one friend reflected in another – but at the same time they are completely independent in my head. They feel very real to me.
Both In a Dark, Dark Wood and The Woman in Cabin 10 have a vintage-y classic mystery feel to them despite their very modern settings. As I mentioned before, I love how the characters are people we can instantly picture in our minds, without being caricatures. While your mysteries are distinctly your own, would you consider some of the classic writers – Christie, Marsh, Sayers – to be an influence on your writing, and if so, how?
Yes, absolutely. I don’t think I consciously channel any of them – but I read huge amounts of classic crime as a teen and all that acts as fertiliser on a writer’s mind. It’s going to come out somehow!
Now for the lightning round…
Favourite book(s) you have read recently (we totally understand that this may change)?
Yikes – recently? I’d have to say He Said / She Said by Erin Kelly which is out next year. Look out for it – it’s awesome.
Best writing advice you have ever received?
I can’t recall a specific bit, but I’ve only read one “how to write” book, and it was Stephen King’s “On Writing”, and it was definitely an influence. Although I dispute his “second draft = first draft minus 10%” rule. That probably works for him, but if I pruned 10% off my first draft, there would be no book left. I am definitely an adder!
If you could meet any mystery/thriller writer for dinner, who might that be?
Oh Christie, for sure. I would love to know what happened in her famous Harrogate disappearance (though I would not be rude enough to ask – I would just hope she told me!)
Favourite character you’ve written (so far)?
Nina in In a Dark, Dark Wood
Book you wished you had written?
Brat Farrer by Josephine Tey.
My thanks to Ruth Ware and to Simon & Schuster Canada for the opportunity to participate in this tour, and for the chance to interview Ruth Ware about her amazing books!
The Woman in Cabin 10 is published by Scout Press, a division of Simon & Schuster Canada. A copy was provided by the publisher as part of this blog tour. It is available for purchase from your favourite online, big box and independent booksellers. ISBN 9781501132933, 340 pages.