Published: 30th June 2016
Trigger warnings: Sexual assault, mental health storyline
This was meant to be the perfect trip.
The Northern Lights. A luxury press launch on a boutique cruise ship.
A chance for travel journalist Lo Blackwood to recover from a traumatic break-in that has left her on the verge of collapse, and to work out what she wants from her relationship.
Except things don’t go as planned.
Woken in the night by screams, Lo rushes to her window to see a body thrown overboard from the next door cabin. But the records show that no-one ever checked into that cabin, and no passengers are missing from the boat.
Exhausted, emotional and increasingly desperate, Lo has to face the fact that her sleep problems might be driving her mad or she is trapped on a boat with a murderer – and she is the sole witness…
There were several moments throughout reading this book where it had me positively brimming with intrigue. It presents a fabulous mystery which kept me turning the pages in a desperate need to find out what happens, but not all of the initial promise is carried through to the end despite its many high points.
The mystery itself is quite a simple concept, but enthralling in its execution, at least at first when the answers are kept tactfully well hidden. This was where the story was at its most effective, as draws you into the relatively fast pace of the story and had me hanging on every word for any signs of a clue. I was hoping for a similarly good resolution, but for me it just did not hit the right notes. More on that later…
The book centres on events on board a cruise ship called the Aurora Borealis, where protagonist and travel journalist Laura is one of a number of passengers on its maiden voyage. On her first day, she encounters a woman staying in the cabin next door to hers.
But then the woman disappears and there is no record of her on the guest list. A traumatised Laura also believes she hears a body being thrown overboard, rendering the crew and all of her fellow passengers murder suspects as she struggles to convince them of her story. Who is the woman in cabin 10, and who on the ship is behind all the sinister incidents?
The mystery is deepened by the addition of emails, news articles and reports of Laura’s supposed disappearance, which appear at the end of each part. These yield even more questions about how the book might end.
Everything else is told entirely in the first-person from Laura’s point of view, and there are several occasions where you are left wondering if she is a reliable narrator. She comes across as extremely vulnerable and is written quite effectively, although sometimes her actions felt a little naïve and irrational to me.
A lot of the other characters were underdeveloped for me. There were small hints of backstory here and there, but aside from that they were a bit clichéd and lacking in personality, with perhaps the odd exception. There were also possibly too many characters; some had no defining features and very soon were hard to tell apart.
For me, the ending and the way the mystery is resolved could have been better. It actually begins with a very good twist, but from there the plot becomes more far-fetched and certain events take place without a satisfactory explanation. Not all of it was bad and it undoubtedly held my attention, but I thought the ending as a whole was rushed.
The setting was one of the book’s biggest strengths. The Aurora Borealis felt like an unsettling place to be and had very claustrophobic atmosphere, especially once the mystery took hold. As a cruise ship that was meant to be luxurious, Ruth Ware does brilliantly to convey a permanent sense of trepidation.
Along with a fast pace that rarely relents once you reach a certain point in the story, the writing is reasonably engaging and captures the tone of each scene very well. It is a highly plot-driven book, but the atmosphere is never lost.
Overall, I would have loved this one had the resolution turned out better. I still enjoyed the book, and will look back on a mystery that had me thoroughly absorbed as well as a thrilling setting, but there were missed opportunities here relating to the supporting characters and the ending. A good read for sure, but it could have been a great one.
A mystery that had me on tenterhooks, but a resolution that left a little to be desired. But I mostly liked it.
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5
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