Audible version, narrated by: Clare Corbett, Louise Brealey and India Fisher.
Rachel Watson takes the same train at the same times every day, passing by the same houses. She looks out the window and starts to imagine the lives of the people in these houses, as I’m sure many of us with a regular commute do on occasion. However, Rachel goes a little further than idly thinking about the people she passes by. She becomes obsessed by a couple she frequently sees, imagining their lives in vivid detail, giving them not only names, but careers and personality traits.
“Jess” and “Jason” just so happen to live a few houses down the road from where Rachel’s ex-husband Tom lives with his new wife Anna, and their daughter Evie. It’s the same house Rachel used to share with Tom before she found out about his affair and they divorced, though “Jess” (Megan) and “Jason” (Scott) moved into the neighbourhood after Rachel had already left.
Rachel is on her own, and she is not over Tom. She calls him a lot, and has been around to his house uninvited on several occasions. She is also an alcoholic who gets blackout drunk. She was blackout drunk on Blenheim Road – where Tom and Megan and Scott live – the same night that Megan Hipwell disappears. She remembers being afraid. She remembers meeting a man on the train and she thinks they spoke. Something bad happened in the underpass. Did she see Megan? Does she know what happened? She doesn’t remember. But she does remember seeing Megan from the train the day before, in her back garden, kissing a man who was not her husband.
Rachel wants to help the police (and be close to Tom), but she doesn’t really know what happened and she can’t trust her memories. Thus starts a twisting and unreliable tale told from 3 different perspectives, neither of which can be fully trusted.
I can’t say too much about this one without spoiling it, as per usual with thrillers, but I can say that this one hit exactly the right balance for me. There was plenty of suspense without it being completely over-the-top unbelievable, and it wasn’t overly gross or vulgar – you know with people or animals being tortured, that sort of thing. I didn’t even really mind that none of the characters were likeable – I was still hooked. And I did empathise with both Rachel and Megan to some extent.
I believe this is also the first novel I’ve read with a female alcoholic protagonist, which I found interesting. I would kind of have expected her to hide it more than she did, but I guess she was past that point, and it did still ring true to me – she seemed believable as a character.
It gets a few minus points for still somehow managing to be a little predictable. Or maybe my guessing correctly was coincidence – either way for me the net effect is the same. I did guess quite early on what the big secret in Megan’s past was, and I did also guess who the killer was. This made the ending a little less suspenseful.
Ultimately though I enjoyed it more than most of the thriller/suspense novels I’ve read the last few years, mostly because I felt the story was coherent, believable (within the genre) and not gratuitous while still remaining suspenseful. So I’m glad I finally gave in to the hype.
A note on the narration: I found it worked well with the three different narrators for this one, as they each had clearly defined sections that came and went throughout the novel. Though the woman narrating Anna has kind of an annoying voice. And I instantly liked Megan’s voice – there was something familiar about it. Turns out it’s narrated by Louise Brealey – AKA Sherlock’s Molly Hooper. And I love Molly Hooper.