A new thriller from author Paula Hawkins
Paula Hawkins has taken to heart Jane Burroway’s helpful precept for writers that “only trouble is interesting." Into the Water opens with a three-paragraph prologue entitled “Libby.” By the end of those three paragraphs, Libby has drowned. The first of many.
The next chapter, entitled “Jules Abbott,”
weighs in at a page and a half and is written in first person. It’s unclear at
first to whom Jules (also sometimes called Julia) is speaking. The reader?
“There was something you wanted to tell me, wasn’t there?” Was there? I didn’t think so. No, the “you” she’s addressing turns
out to be her sister Nel, also called Danielle, who was writing a book about all the people of Beckford who've drowned. But now Nel herself has drowned.
The next chapter, “Josh,” two-and-a-half
pages, is also written in first person, but he is addressing the reader. We learn that Josh
Whittaker is young, and that something isn’t quite right with his mum Louise
Whittaker. No wonder. It appears that Josh's sister, the bright, capable,
happy-go-lucky Katie Whittaker has recently drowned.
Then we meet Nikki Sage, who’s
slightly loony but seems to have a lot of useful information. If only someone
would listen. She is sister to Jeannie Sage, who left town years ago, but who
occasionally speaks to Nikki, at least that’s what Nikki believes. And then we hear
from Sean Townsend, a police inspector, who works with Erin Murphy, both of
whom have issues, especially Sean, who’s married to the shadowy Helen, and son
to Patrick Townsend and Lauren Townsend, who some years back--wait
That’s four drowned if you’re keeping score. (Jules nearly drowned once, but that doesn’t count.)
Enter Lena, Nel’s daughter (Jules’s neice), fifteen, grief-stricken over her friend Katie’s death and now both grief-stricken and enraged over her mother’s. We also meet Mark Henderson, Katie and Lena’s teacher, and Robbie Cannon, who plays a pivotal but limited role, so don’t worry too much about his name. (An old boyfriend of Nel’s.)
Were all these drownings accidental? This is the question on more than a few minds.
In addition to short chapters, a large
cast, multiple drownings, and shifting points of view, Into
the Water telescopes back and forth in time. While this technique provides
useful, and sometimes salacious, backstory in real time (always a treat) it
adds a layer of complexity to an already complex tale, and sometimes feels more like the
author trying to impress than simply to convey her story in the best possible
Around page 158 the plot begins to
coalesce. Readers, by then, will have most of the characters sorted out (a pen and paper definitely helps), only to realize that the people of Beckford are all either so deeply damaged, or such monsters, or both, that the
resolution starts to seem a bit less compelling.
Hawkins is a competent writer, and some
readers will appreciate her clever crafting. Plus, as noted above, she took to heart Jane
Burroway’s adage and delivers plenty of trouble.
Into the Water is available at the
Norwich Bookstore and wherever books are sold.
Katharine Britton is the author of three novels, Her Sister’s Shadow, Little Island, and Vanishing Time.