Paula Hawkins has not followed her hit with a novel that’s “same but different”. Phew, because I could no more resist the intended effects of Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train than I could those of a mugful of arsenic.
My critical faculties may have been grumbling away in the background, but once I had started it, the book remained stubbornly on my lap and in my eyeline until it was finished.
That book, which sold 18 million-odd copies, was an example of the fashionable type of psychological thriller in which a middle-class woman follows the trail of some mystery that ends in a shocking revelation about her life.
This subgenre has been dubbed “grip lit”, but there is something about being held in the literary equivalent of a half-nelson that I find, unsurprisingly, rather stifling.
In most of my favourite crime novels, characters (and readers) are given room to breathe: the emphasis, initially at least, is less on what will happen next than on how what has already happened has affected those involved.
With Into the Water, her second thriller, Hawkins has written a novel of the latter sort.
It is set in the fictional town of Beckford, through which snakes a river “infected with the blood and bile of persecuted women”.
In the past, witches were drowned in the river; more recently many vulnerable and abused women have chosen to end their own lives in it.
The novel begins with social worker Jules returning after many years’ absence to Beckford, after her estranged sister Nel is found dead in the river.
Nel had returned to live there, writing a book about what really happened to the many women who ended up in the river’s Drowning Pool.
Nel’s death prompts the hoariest question in crime fiction (after whodunnit?) – did she jump or was she pushed?
The point of the book is to show how a violent crime can affect a whole community; how different characters can be poisoned by the evil enacted by a few people.
If this book is more put- downable than its predecessor, it’s because its readers have to think a bit more; but they are more amply rewarded. – The Daily Telegraph