REVIEW: INTO THE WATER, BY PAULA HAWKINS

A single mother turns up dead at the bottom of the river that runs through town. Earlier in the summer, a vulnerable teenage girl met the same fate. They are not the first women lost to these dark waters, but their deaths disturb the river and its history, dredging up secrets long submerged.
 
Left behind is a lonely fifteen-year-old girl. Parentless and friendless, she now finds herself in the care of her mother’s sister, a fearful stranger who has been dragged back to the place she deliberately ran from—a place to which she vowed she’d never return.
 
With the same propulsive writing and acute understanding of human instincts that captivated millions of readers around the world in her explosive debut thriller, The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins delivers an urgent, twisting, deeply satisfying read that hinges on the deceptiveness of emotion and memory, as well as the devastating ways that the past can reach a long arm into the present.
 
Beware a calm surface—you never know what lies beneath.

My Thoughts: After the body of Nel Abbott is found in the water, the police conclude that she jumped. But her sister Jules and her daughter Lena, a troubled teen, are not convinced.A short time before her mother’s death, Lena’s best friend Katie had died, also in the river, and Lena is keeping a big secret about the events leading up to Katie’s death. Lena and Katie’s brother Josh are holding what they know close, pretending ignorance.

Because of the history of the Drowning Pool, with suicides ending up there, and then, as Patrick Townsend had been known to say, the river took care of “troublesome women,” some of the women in the English village of Beckford are starting to speculate. Like Jules. And like the psychic Nicki. What stories are the women telling Nel, who is writing a book about the history of the river? Her focus is on how the women are punished, even though the men were also behaving badly.

Years before, Patrick Townsend’s wife Lauren, the mother of Sean, a police officer, died in that river. What had happened? Had she been troublesome? Why does Sean blank out suddenly, and why does he tug at his arm, where someone cut him at some point? What memories are he suppressing?

What really happened between the teacher, Mark Henderson, and Katie? What does Lena know?

Into the Water was a convoluted tale with many red herrings, too many characters, and a lot of confusing elements. At the very end, in the last lines, we finally realize what must have happened to at least one of the dead women. But was there more to the story? I could have enjoyed the story more if it had fewer narrators, but the themes of crime and punishment did keep me intrigued. 4 stars.

***

AN IRISH VILLAGE, A WISHING WELL, & QUIRKY CHARACTERS — A REVIEW

One of the best things about Maeve Binchy’s books is her ability to incorporate richly detailed and sometimes quirky characters into gorgeous settings–usually in Ireland.

In WHITETHORN WOODS by Maeve Binchy, the setting is Rossmoor, a small Irish village centered around a “wishing well” type sanctuary; there we meet a variety of characters whose lives have been impacted in one way or another by the presence of the well.

Each character is introduced in a series of vignettes told from that individual’s first person perspective. Some of the characters’ lives intersect throughout the book, but often there is no attempt to show how the characters are connected to one another. The primary connection is the St. Ann’s well and its fate, since there is an issue of whether or not a road should traverse the town and “cut off” the well.

Except, of course, for some recurring characters, like Father Brian Flynn, Neddy Nolan (described as “not the sharpest knife in the drawer”), and a few characters connected to them, these series of individuals could be passersby in the drama of this village and its events.

While I enjoyed the usual Binchy-style characterizations and the lovely settings, the cast of characters felt too large and disconnected, and the point of the book seemed lost along the way. Therefore, while enjoyable, I would grant this story 3.5 stars and recommend it to those seeking lively vignettes that one might find in a short story collection. Those expecting the usual Binchy drama will probably be disappointed.