Because Hawkins penned the immensely popular The Girl on the Train, I feel like it’s almost obligatory to compare the two. Despite how highly I think of The Girl on the Train, I strongly believe that this novel was so much better. It was rawer, the characters were more intriguing and complex, and I found the plot much more engrossing. I knew it was going to have to take Hawkins a lot to top her previous novel, but I believe that she managed to do it.
This novel offers multiple POVs from the residents of Beckford, a tightly-knit small town that distinctively features an unavoidable dark, deep river that has taken the lives of many women throughout the years. The most recent death in these waters was that of Nel Abbott, which initially kicks off the plot of this novel: was her death suicide or murder? The mystery surrounding this river deepens with the suicide of Katie, who happened to be Nel’s teenage daughter Lena’s best friend, that took place just a few months prior. As the reader peers into the lives of the various residents, dark secrets come to light and the plot becomes more and more twisted.
I’ve seen many reviews of this book in which people complain about how there are too many POVs—and there has to be about a dozen or so—featured throughout this novel and that it makes the story confusing. I have to strongly disagree with this opinion. Each POV is written with such a distinctive voice that I could stop in the middle of a chapter and return to it later and know exactly which character I’m on without having to check. The fact that the reader was given such a comprehensive insight helped capture the unique vibe of the town and allowed one to get to know the large cast of intriguing voices. So no, I didn’t find this novel confusing or overplotted—I found it ingenious.
Jules, the estranged sister from Nel, is probably the most prominently featured character, and her erratic and strange thought process was interesting to get lost in. Lena was drawn as your typical teenage mean girl but was given enough depth to avoid becoming a stereotype. Patrick Townsend, the father of Sean, who is a complicated character in his own right and acted as the lead detective on Nel’s case, is a real piece of work for many reasons. The only character I really couldn’t get on board with was Nickie Sage, a psychic and the town’s designated crazy lady—she was gimmicky and Hawkins could have done much better.
Being classified as a mystery novel, this book contains many twists and turns. Some weren’t as shocking as they were probably meant to be—in particular, I felt like the whole storyline pertaining to Katie’s suicide (and the consequences) was tired and relatively unprovoking. However, the big twist at the end wasn’t something I saw coming, and I felt like it was done extremely well.
Don’t pick up this book if you’re expecting a companion novel to The Girl on the Train—you won’t find that within the pages of this book. However, you will find a dark, captivating story with many sides—all of which seem to come back to the infamously deadly river.