4 stars out of 5
Okay, I admit I'm not quite as enthusiastic about this one as The Girl on the Train, the author's first, and wildly popular, novel. At the same time, I'm a bit flummoxed by all the negative reviews I'm seeing (as I write this, the book has an average of 3-1/2 stars at Amazon, based on 169 customer reviews - 32% of which are 1- and 2-star ratings. Wow - did y'all read the same book I did?
To a certain extent, I get it. While I honestly enjoyed this book overall, there are a few things that gave me pause (and prompted me to knock it down one star from the enthusiastic 5 stars I gave the author's first stellar effort). I agree, for instance, that there are too many characters - a couple of whom really don't contribute much to the story. I've also grown weary of chapters that shift from character to character and in time frame (although to my great dismay that seems to be the norm now, so guess I'd better get used to it). The story gets a little confusing - who really knew what and when and why it really matters - and all the characters are so flawed and have so many secrets that they all fall short of likable.
Forgive me, though, if all that sounds off-putting, because on the whole it really isn't. Each chapter adds details to the background, peeling back layers that allow readers to learn what's really going on now, what went on in the past and how it's all connected (or most of it, anyway - some secrets, or at least things I suspected were secrets, stayed that way till the end).
Here are the basics: A single mother, Nel, is found dead at the bottom of a part of a river known as the Drowning Pool because so many other women died there. Nel leaves behind a moody, incorrigible 15-year-old daughter, Lena, and a long-estranged sister, Jules. No one knows who Lena's father is (well, except for Nel, and she's not talking). Lena resents Jules and Jules still detests her dead sister, but they agree Nel didn't commit suicide as is the common belief given the surface evidence. An investigation brings in local police officer Sean and his new-to-town partner Erin - both of whom (surprise!) carry baggage from their own pasts. It is learned that Nel was compiling a book detailing the lives and deaths of some of the other women who lost their lives in the Drowning pool - and then everything begins to unravel as clues lead to characters whose lives were intertwined with Nel's.
The ending came as a bit of a surprise, but was it satisfying? Not really - but on the other hand, given everything that preceded it, it seemed fitting. And that, my friends, is good enough for me.
Into the Water by Paula Hawkins (Riverhead Books, May 217); 394 pp.