Book Review: Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Publisher: Riverhead Books

Summary:   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.

Beware a calm surface—you never know what lies beneath.

A river runs through Beckford and that's where the "troublesome women" who need to be brought low go.

This felt quite like a mix of Erin Kelly's Broadchurch and J.K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy. I had to laugh out loud when a character muses "how is anyone supposed to keep up with all the dead bodies around here. It's like Midsomer Murders only with accidental suicides and grotesque misogynistic historical drownings instead of people accidentally falling into the slurry or bashing each other over the head". As a Midsomer fan, that was a nice nod but even for a village story this cast a wide net. There is a wide cast of characters so there's no way to get close to any of them and this makes them read less as people and more as types on a theme. I admit to very much missing how skillfully claustrophobic and intimate Hawkins is able to write a character as she did with Rachel in The Girl On The Train but there's none of that in this book. There's no time and so there's also no way to have any deeper feelings for the characters or the terrible things happening or that have happened, here. It's not bad, it's just different. As it turned out, I most enjoyed Erin, one of the investigators because she's the only person on the outside of this twisted village who is like the reader, just trying to work this all out.

I read this in a day so, though I didn't feel this was as compulsive a read as TGOTT (I very much tried not to compare the two), part of what propelled me through the book was me reading a bit in disbelief that so many things were so very shallow, thinly veiled and telegraphed. Nel's death is thought to be connected to Katie's per the summary but about halfway through the book, you know it's really connected to another and it's just a waiting game until the characters figure it all out. I read my fair share of mysteries but even I didn't want to think I had as much figured out as it turned out that I did. My full on denial kept me flipping pages like a fiend waiting to be wrong. I suppose I can still credit this with surprising me in the end in that way. Suffice it to say, there's nothing happening in the village that you haven't heard before. Again, this wasn't bad but it wasn't the suspenseful tale I'd expected (perhaps I shouldn't have had the expectation).

I did enjoy the historical bits from Nel's book giving a look at the women who'd met their end in the river. I also liked the description of how the village is laid out around the river with all roads leading right to it. I wanted a map of this place. Hawkins did a very good job of setting the scene and making the water both inviting and foreboding. I especially liked the mention of how bodies of water (& apparently train platforms) call with beauty and the danger of "what if". I also thought the idea that people remember things the way they never were in order to protect themselves and get on but also imprison themselves and often make things worse was good. In a book that will be mostly forgettable, I'll remember those well done bits.

I'm going to go neutral on recommend to fans who loved Hawkins' previous book. If you're new to her & have no preconceived expectations, jump in and enjoy. This isn't a bad book by any stretch but it didn't read to me as a thriller either. It's a modern village murder mystery. Hawkins is still on my Must Read As Soon As It Comes Out list so I look forward to her next offering.

Cast of POV characters (in case you have a hard time keeping them straight)

Nickie Sage - village psychic and weird old lady
Nel (Danielle) Abbott- latest victim of the river; mother of Lena; sister to Jules
Jules (Julia) Abbott- sister of Nel, aunt of Lena
Lena Abbott- teen daughter of Nel; niece to Jules; best friend to Katie who died a year before story opens
Louise - mother of Katie
Josh - brother of Katie
Mark Henderson - teacher at the secondary school
Helen Townsend - headmistress at the secondary school & wife of DI Sean Townsend
DI Sean Townsend - primary investigator in the death of Nel; married to Helen & son of Patrick
Patrick Townsend - retired officer and father of Sean; father in-law to Helen
DS Erin Morgan - second on the investigation in the death of Nel; just about the only reliable POV character we have here

There are still a few other people mentioned but they don't get POV chapters.

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