It’s hard to talk about contemporary mystery thrillers without hearing the name Paula Hawkins.
When her novel The Girl On The Train (which was also a MashReads book club selection) debuted in 2015, it jumped to the top of Amazon’s bestseller list for the year, was picked up for a 2016 film adaptation starring Emily Blunt, and cemented Hawkins’ name as an author to watch in the mystery thriller genre.
But following her success, Hawkins had one more mystery to solve: How does an author follow up a smash hit?
Hawkins’ answer to that question is her new novel Into The Water.
Into The Water follows a small town, Beckford, that’s reeling after a community member, Nel Abbott, falls from a cliff and drowns in the local river. There are multiple theories about the cause of death: some say she slipped of the cliff, others say she jump, while others say she was pushed. But as the town — including a transplant detective, Nel’s daughter, and Nel’s sister — investigates Nel’s death, they learn the river holds more secrets than anyone suspected.
In a lot of ways, Into The Water follows the formula of The Girl on the Train (and of the mystery thriller genre as a whole, for that matter): it features multiple perspectives, narrators with debatable reliability, mysteries nested in mysteries, and 11th hour plot twists.
But where The Girl on The Train takes this scaffolding and constructs a gripping mystery featuring compelling characters, Into The Water feels simultaneously bloated and thin. The story gets overwhelmed by so many perspectives that you never feel like you truly get to know any of them, the book divides your attention into four core mysteries (a few of which could stand to be cut), and even the books feminist moral — Why is it that woman always get blamed? Why are men never the ones careening off cliffs? — seems flat and unfocused, especially considering The Girl On The Train’s sharp critique of the types of women we will and will not listen to.
That’s not to say Hawkins has lost her touch. When the action of the novel gets going in the second half of the novel, the book quickly picks up into a page-turning thriller that shows off Hawkins’ prowess for writing mystery. But with a lack of a gripping core mystery or characters, Into The Water will likely leave readers, especially fans of The Girl on the Train, disappointed.
This week, join us as we talk about tropes in mysteries, who makes a satisfying thriller, and Paula Hawkins’ novel Into The Water in the podcast episode above.
Then, inspired by Into The Water, we chat about our favorite mysteries and thrillers, including Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, The Name of The Rose by Umberto Eco, The Secret History by Donna Tartt, and more.
And, as always, we close the show with recommendations:
Inspired by our conversation about mysteries, Aliza recommends watching the movie Clue. "It is one of the funniest movies of all time. The cast is every amazing comedian who has ever lived." She also recommends the TV show Broadchurch.
Peter recommends checking out this week’s New York Times Magazine, which was an all comics issue. "It was all stories from the city desk at the New York Times and it’s just beautiful." He also recommends HBO’s TV show The Leftovers. "I had to make room in my top 5 list for the best shows of all time, because [The Leftovers] is on there. It is so human, and rich, and so sad, and so weirdly hopeful, but also so crazily funny … it’s just a marvelous work of storytelling."
MJ recommends the new Wonder Woman movie. "I would like to add my voice to the chorus of voices raving about Wonder Woman … that move is so. damn. good."
Next week we take a dive into the comic book world by reading and discussing Greg Rukka’s Wonder Woman Vol 1: The Lies (Rebirth). And if you’re looking for a longer book to sink your teeth into, be sure to check out our official book club selection for the month, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley.
And if you’re looking for even more book news, don’t forget to follow MashReads on Facebook and Twitter.