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Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Ian Fleming Steel Dagger celebrates the very best of the thriller genre.

Ian Fleming said there was one essential criterion for a good thriller – that “one simply has to turn the pages” – and this is one of the main characteristics that the judges will be looking for when they pick their winner. Seven titles have been shortlisted for the award this year, and we’ll be looking at each one in turn with the help of book bloggers and reviewers.

Up next is Pamela Lentschner with her thoughts on The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.

Over to Pamela:

“A compelling and unsettling psychological thriller – kept me gripped from the first page to the last.

Rachel takes the same train every day. It’s the one bit of stability in a life that has fallen apart – her marriage has ended, she is drinking far too much, and she is lodging in a single room in a friend’s house. Then one day she notices something from the train window – an incident she feels could be important in a criminal investigation that has hit the headlines. But will anyone believe her? And can she even trust her own memories of that event?

Hawkins uses the familiar mystery setting of a train commute but this isn’t the classical train journey of Golden Age crime. This is a modern, urban railway setting, charged with a sense of menace through carefully selected details – abandoned clothing beside the track, the shadowy underpass, the crowded station. It’s a setting we all recognise – the intrusion of crime into our everyday world.

The story is told from the point of view of the three main female characters – Rachel, Anna and Megan – but the majority of the narrative is given to Rachel, allowing the reader to follow the twists and turns of her thoughts. All the characters are flawed, often very unsympathetic, but human and believable. The way they misunderstand and misinterpret events is conveyed brilliantly, and their inconsistency and unpredictability makes them more real. The male characters are only ever seen in terms of their impact on the three women, so we are always unsure how to understand their real feelings and motivations.

The author skilfully builds up and then undermines the reader’s expectations until we share Rachel’s frustrated (and frustrating) uncertainty about what is real and what is not. I would have liked to have heard more of Anna’s take on events earlier in the story– as the devoted second wife of Rachel’s ex-husband, she has a very different voice and her angle is vital in challenging Rachel’s view of herself and her behaviour.

The plot is fast-paced, with carefully scattered red herrings, accelerating from the gloomy, claustrophobic early scenes to a powerful outcome.

Enjoyed reading this – it was often uncomfortable but always engrossing.”

Have you read The Girl on the Train? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…

Read a review of the CWA Steel Dagger shortlisted novel Cop Town by Karin Slaughter.

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