A lot of books try to say they’re the next Gone Girl or Girl on the Train, but this one really does have some of the elements I loved about those two books. It has a narrator who isn’t entirely reliable, but it doesn’t go as whole-hog with that tool that the others did. It’s also a murder mystery that manages to convey a palpable sense of fear and danger.
Lora Blacklock, or “Lo,” is a travel writer who has what could be the break of her career–a chance to go on the maiden voyage of a boutique cruise liner the Aurora Borealis. The owner, an English peer with a Norwegian heiress wife, hopes to have an exclusive retreat for the ultra-rich. Lo will have a chance to not just drink champagne on someone else’s dime, but to get great leads from some of the big names on the passenger list.
Things go south from the beginning. One of the passengers turns out to be Lo’s ex, and another one is someone she knows (and dislikes) for professional reasons. Then, the first night, Lo is awakened by a scream and a splash, and she rushes to the veranda just in time to see what she thinks is a body thrown overboard.
That’s when everything goes sideways. Lo tells the steward, the safety officer, the staff, her ex, and even the ship owner about what she saw, only to find she’s not quite believed. There’s no trace of anyone having been in that room. No one knows who might have been thrown overboard. Is she sure she saw and heard what she thought she did? After all, she had been drinking, she does take anti-depressants. Maybe she’s just some hysterical female desperate for attention.
As Lo gets closer and closer to the truth, her physical danger increases. One of the techniques the author used was to have a secondary timeline beginning from halfway through the journey parallel Lo’s investigation. The scenes of Lo’s first and second day on the ship are interspaced with scenes via email a few days later, when her boyfriend and mother are frantically trying to get the Norwegian police to find out where she went to. A body is discovered. Another body is discovered. Her outfit is described. And meanwhile, Lo is walking into what could be her death.
I loved the tension built up like this. I loved the aggravation of Lo not being believed (and doubting herself) and of knowing that something awful was going to happen. I loved the scenes on the boat and the personalities involved and Lo herself, using her wits and her grit first to get to the truth, and then to try to save her own life.
This is a great story if you want what is essentially a closed-room mystery but with added tension and danger. I’d give it five stars except that her break-in in the opening scene seemed so crucial and so contrived that I felt it needed to have some significance (especially when another character suffered the same crime.) It felt meaningful, and important, and I thought it ought to have had something to do with the plot.