Lo Blackwood has been given the career opportunity of a lifetime – attending the press launch of a new boutique cruise ship and writing about her experience on its maiden voyage. But in the days leading up to the cruise her flat is burgled while she’s sleeping, and her relationship with her boyfriend, Judah, hits the rocks. Unsettled and exhausted, Lo makes her way to the ship, convinced some rest and recuperation will help her feel better.
But things don’t work out like that.
She’s woken on the first night by a scream, and when she rushes to her cabin window she sees a dark smear that looks like blood on the safety barrier, and what looks like a body in the sea. Terrified, Lo calls security but, although the Head of Security is polite, she’s told firmly that the cabin next door – cabin 10 – has no passengers checked into it, and no one is missing from the boat. Lo doesn’t believe it, though. Earlier in the evening she’d borrowed mascara from a young woman in cabin 10. A woman who is now nowhere to be seen.
Against the backdrop of ultimate luxury – white velvet, raw-silk, chandeliers with over two thousand Swarovski crystals – and the breath-taking natural beauty of the Norwegian fjords, Lo finds herself facing two unnerving explanations. Either stress has overcome her, and the woman and the blood are figments of her imagination, or she’s trapped on a boat, cut off from the outside world, and one of the other passengers is a murderer. Unable to sleep and unsure of who to trust, Lo decides the only way to be sure is to investigate what happened herself.
Ruth Ware has a knack for setting her stories in places that exude creepiness. From the glass house in the forest that features in her debut thriller – In A Dark, Dark Wood – and now in The Woman in Cabin 10, where the claustrophobic confines of a small cruise boat are used to chillingly fearsome effect, ever increasing suspense oozes from the pages.
But it’s not just the setting that provides the tension here. Each of the passengers, and indeed some of the staff, aboard the Aurora Borealis leap off the page with a vitality that demands attention. From handsome photographer Cole Lederer, to top-of-her-game travel journalist Tina West, and the hosts (and owners) of the Aurora, Lord Bullmer and his reclusive wife, there’s a public face, and a hidden story, for Lo to investigate. As the champagne flows and egos clash, Lo tries to distinguish fact from fiction as she grows ever more exhausted from lack of sleep. Throw into the mix her ex-boyfriend and fellow journalist, Ben Howard, who seems to alternate between helping and hindering her, and you have all the ingredients for a thoroughly contemporary locked room mystery.
The Woman in Cabin 10 is a real page turner. Packed with suspense and twisty with tension to the final page, it’s one of my favourite books of 2016.
Read the first chapter of The Woman in Cabin 10 here.