Likely Stories: Into the Water, by Paula Hawkins

Aug 17, 2017

Suspenseful tale of the mysterious drowning of a popular teen and a single mother.


I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

I am always a tiny bit nervous when I sit down to read a second novel when the first was terrific.  I have been burned more than once in buying the “sophomore jinx” story.  But this time, my fears were quickly washed away by Paula Hawkins and her new novel, Into the Water.  Her first novel, The Girl on the Train, has been published in 40 countries with 20 million copies sold.

Into the Water seems to me a better novel than Girl.  The only flaw was a confusing number of characters which took me quite a while to sort out with the help of several family trees.  Once I had a clear picture of them—at about page 60 and yes, I did violate my rule of 50—the state of affairs became clear.  She also provided a handy set of epilogues for the surviving main characters.  

As the story begins, Nell Abbot, a single-mother has drowned in a river a short time after a teenager has done the same.  Nell leaves behind her teenage daughter in the care of her sister, Julia “Jules” Abbott.  A popular teen, Katie Whitaker preceded Nell in the river.  The twists and turns had me guessing all the way to the end.  A discerning reader needs to get a handle on the list of suspects as early as possible.  Think three or four family trees.

Each chapter shares thoughts and ideas with the reader.  In this instance, Jules, Nel’s Sister, thinks about her own death.  Hawkins writes, “I pulled over to the side of the road and turned off the engine.  I looked up.  There were the trees and the stone steps, green with moss and treacherous after the rain.  My entire body goosefleshed.  I remembered this: freezing rain beating the tarmac, flashing blue lights vying with lightening to illuminate the river and the sky, clouds of breath in front of panicked faces, and a little boy, ghost-white and shaking, led up the steps to the road by a policewoman.  She was clutching his hand and her eyes were wide and wild, her head twisting this way and that as she called out to someone.  I can still feel what it felt like that night, the terror and the fascination.  I can still hear your words in my head: What would it be like?  Can you imagine?  To watch your mother die?”

Another interesting character is Nickie.  Some see her as a nuisance, the children as a witch.  Hawkins writes, “Nicki had a flat above the grocery shop, just one room really, with a galley kitchen and a bathroom so tiny it barely warranted the name.  Not much to speak of, not much to show for a whole life, but she had a comfortable armchair by the window that looked out on the town, and that’s where she sat and ate even slept sometimes, because she hardly slept at all these days, so there didn’t seem much point in going to bed: 16).

One good thing about some English mysteries is the lack of guns and shooting.  I quickly found myself trying to untie some of those knots with nothing but the same clues, rumors, and innuendo the police and the family are dealing with including quite a few dead ends along the way.  If you like mystery and suspense, Into the Water by Paula Hawkins has about as much suspense as anyone could hope for.  4-1/2 stars.

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories.