Anna is suffering from agoraphobia, stemming from a traumatic incident in her recent past. She sits staring out her window, watching the neighbors and drinking, mixing alcohol with powerful drugs. She knows better since she is a psychologist; still she self-medicates with a dangerous alcohol and drug cocktail. She is also a huge movie fan, especially the classic black and white mystery films like Hitchcock’s Rear Window. There are many film quotes scattered throughout the text, popping spontaneously from Anna’s muddled brain. For those of you too young to know that film, the protagonist, played by Jimmy Stewart, is wheelchair bound and stares out his window. He sees what he thinks is a murder. Of course, we find that Anna, too, sees what she thinks is a murder but the police don’t believe her. This homage to Rear Window is both intentional and, in my opinion, an intriguing start.
The book goes downhill from there. Still, before I say why, I should say that this book is a worthwhile summer beach read if you like mysteries. I can give it a solid three and a half stars despite its rather obvious and severe problems. So what makes me object? Three things primarily: first, its lack of originality (and I am not referring to Rear Window); second, it’s draggy and overwritten, that is, stretched and manipulative in order to fit the publisher’s cookie cutter hit mystery formula; and third, the voice actress on the audiobook overacts terribly.
The lack of originality I refer to is the current fad of using the first person and an unreliable narrator. Anna is drunk and taking psychoactive drugs that can cause delusions as she tells the story. Can we believe her? This trend, a short-lived one, I hope, although not entirely new, recently became immensely popular with publishers after the commercial success of Gone Girl, and especially The Girl on the Train. Since then we’ve had The Woman in Cabin 10 and Before I Go to Sleep that I’ve read, and who knows how many other copycats. Even the name is a rip-off of these “The Girl/Woman” titles. I listened to the author interview at the end and he even admits to deciding to write this book only after the success of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. The plot is all too predictable as well. The first big dope slap moment for Anna comes about three-quarters of the way through the book, although most readers will have figured that out a hundred pages earlier. Suspension of disbelief moments abound, especially with the police, and the ending is ludicrously overwritten, although satisfying in a perverse sort of way. Put another way, it’s formulaic, but the formula it follows is entertaining enough.