Published by Legends Press on October 3rd 2017
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'Once you start Catherine Burns's dark, disturbing, and enthralling debut novel, it's hard to stop. The Visitors is bizarrely unsettling, yet compulsively readable.' Iain Reid, Internationally Bestselling Author of I'm Thinking of Ending Things
Marion Zetland lives with her domineering older brother, John in a decaying Georgian townhouse on the edge of a northern seaside resort. A timid spinster in her fifties who still sleeps with teddy bears, Marion does her best to shut out the shocking secret that John keeps in the cellar.
Until, suddenly, John has a heart attack and Marion is forced to go down to the cellar herself and face the gruesome truth that her brother has kept hidden.
As questions are asked and secrets unravel, maybe John isn't the only one with a dark side.
Do you ever read so many books that you occasionally forget who you have and haven’t read? For instance, has someone ever suggested a book to you, and you thought “That author sounds familiar, but maybe I’m just crazy,” and it’s not until you’re about 100 pages into the book that suddenly you realize “Oh. Right. I swore I wasn’t going to read anything else by this author again?” This can’t be just a “me” problem, can it? Oh well, here we are with me reading The Girl in Cabin 10, by Ruth Ware, after it was suggested by a friend. It wasn’t until I was nearly a quarter into the book when I remembered that I previously read In a Dark Dark Wood, also by Ruth Ware, and I decided I was never going to read a book by Ms. Ware again. For good reason.
The Girl in Cabin 10 stars Lauren “Lo” Blacklock, a struggling travel journalist for what sounds like a mid-market travel magazine. She is set to review an exclusive (there are a mere 10 cabins) luxury cruise just shortly after a home invasion leaves her scared and emotionally rattled. While on the cruise she meets colleagues both new and familiar and finds herself wrapped up in a murder mystery involving a mysterious passenger no one can remember seeing.
What jarred my memory about Ruth Ware is that the protagonist, Lo, is strikingly similar to the protagonist from In a Dark, Dark Wood. Both women are emotionally unstable, depressed, and unsure of both themselves and their place in the world. Both women have trouble with relationships, both personal and professional and are barely hanging on by a thread. In the first novel, I found the character mildly grating, but sympathetic. Taking a second trip (see, that’s funny because this is about a cruise… nevermind) with a strikingly similar character made for a far more grating experience. Lo is presented in a “her own worst enemy” format, which did little to help me “bond” with her story.
All of that might not be so bad if the mystery itself wasn’t predictable. From the moment Lo awakens to hearing a splash outside her cabin door, the mystery becomes painfully obvious. As Lo stumbles through her own detective work, she plays out like a less competent Jessica Fletcher, not-so-subtly getting herself into more and more trouble. Unfortunately, the book plays straight to genre tropes and when the Big Reveal occurs, it was something I had pieced together early on. It would be forgivable if Lo was a more interesting protagonist, or if anyone on board the ship had been more than a genre stereotype. The only really positive thing I can say is that at least this wasn’t yet another attempt to capture the lightning in the bottle that was Gone, Girl.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t envy mystery novelists. So many plots and ideas have been explored over the years, it’s really hard to create a compelling story that has readers genuinely perplexed as to where it’s going. I’ve read trite plots that are made very interesting because the characters are something unique and special that we’ve not seen before. Similarly, I’ve stumbled over banal characters because a plot of so very compelling. The Girl in Cabin 10 has none of those things going for it. It feels, throughout, like a crowd-pleaser, something that never tries to step too far outside of the mystery comfort zone, and in the end, it suffers for it.