After a home break-in leaves her shaken, young journalist Laura “Lo” Blacklock decides to bounce back by pursuing the assignment of a lifetime: a week-long excursion aboard the Aurora, a luxury cruise ship owned by billionaire Richard Bulmer. Lo quickly gets swept up in the grandeur of both the ship and its colorful passengers. Most intriguing are Richard Bulmer and his ailing wife, Anne Bulmer, whose struggle with cancer has left her largely reclusive during the voyage. All seems to be going well for Lo…that is, until a splash heard in the middle of the night awakens her. A body thrown overboard? The sounds of a struggle next door and a brief glimpse of smeared blood out on her private deck are all Lo has to go on – but will anyone believe what she thinks she saw?
The Woman in Cabin 10 drew my attention shortly after I read In a Dark, Dark Wood, Ruth Ware’s first published mystery thriller. I also liked the premise of having a narrator whose PTSD, relationship doubts, and fear of being powerless made me constantly ask myself just how reliable she could be under dire circumstances. ‘What did Lo really witness that night?’
Story and Pacing
Ruth Ware, a British author who specializes in mystery and suspense, clearly understands how to establish both acute and prolonged tension. She skillfully draws readers into the mind of her protagonist, a woman who has both genuine aspirations and deeply-rooted anxieties. I found myself empathizing with Lo, especially in her more intimate moments of loving and doubting her partner, Judah.
The story moves at a fairly brisk pace and kept me intrigued. Once Lo is aboard the Aurora, however, a bevy of characters are introduced in a relatively short amount of time. An unassuming photographer named Cole, a couple of moguls, the head of security, Lo’s old ex, Ben…I had trouble keeping track of most of the secondary characters. As soon as I started to get my bearings, the story was already propelling itself into the third act. All other characters were little more than staged potential suspects by that point.
Up until that third act, Lo’s exploration of the ship and investigation into the potential murderer(s) were riveting. I found myself cheering her on and appreciating her initiative, especially given how scared and full of self-doubt she was. Lo’s empathy and compassion were her most outstanding qualities.
Ultimately, the story struggles once the woman from cabin 10 returns. There is a segment where Lo is captured and which dragged on a bit too long for me. I got the feeling that the story could have just as easily continued with Lo’s investigation and subsequent run in with the true killer. Instead, it got bogged down in a lot of exposition (show, don’t tell!). I was also unsatisfied by Carrie’s motives and felt that she gave Lo an easy way out.
With a weak final act and somewhat unsatisfying end to Lo’s foe, The Woman in Cabin 10 still manages to offer a fair amount of mystery and thrills. I especially enjoyed the poignant message Ware delivers on how one’s mental health is often used to draw conclusions over cold hard evidence. Fans of Gillian Flynn and Agatha Christie may very well enjoy The Woman in Cabin 10.