Into the Water by Paula Hawkins (2017)

into the water

Paula Hawkins follows up her best-selling novel, The Girl on the Train, with Into the Water, a thriller that is more compelling, faster paced, and just as intensely intelligent…sure to be an instant best-seller. I read the whole book in one afternoon and loved it.

In the English village of Beckford, the river that winds through the town casts a deep spell over the local residents. Dating back to the witch-hunts of the 1600s, the river has been the sight of dozens of documented — and countless undocumented — murders and suicides: almost all involving women. These women, the women of the Drowning Pool, continue to haunt Beckford.

Danielle “Nel” Abbott, a successful photographer who spent her childhood summers on the river in Beckford, returns to the town to complete a book and photography art exhibit honoring the women who have died at the Drowning Pool. Nel has harbored a life-long obsession with the murders and suicides that have happened on the river and wants to tell the stories — the real stories — of the women who died.

Nel’s project, and her relentless obsession for stirring up past town scandals, immediately riles the local residents. When her project is linked the the tragic suicide of a local teenage girl named Katie, Nel herself becomes a target for violence. Within a few months, Nel’s body is found in the Drowning Pool and many in town feel that she got what was coming to her.

Enter Julia “Jules” Abbott, Nel’s estranged sister, who has been suddenly thrust into the roles as executor of her sister’s estate and the guardian to Nel’s fifteen-year-old daughter Lena. Jules’ relationship to Beckford is not one of deep interest (as it was for Nel), but remembered as a place of fear, grief, and violence. In fact, events that happened in that very town when the girls were young are the source for the rift between the sisters. “What struck me is how well I remembered. Too well. Things I want to remember I can’t, and the things I try so hard to forget just keep coming. The nearer I got to Beckford, the more undeniable it became, the past shooting out at me like sparrows from the hedgerow, startling and inescapable.” 11

There is nothing clear-cut about Nel’s death, nor the suicide of Katie Whittaker which Nel is blamed for causing, and everyone in town seems to be attempting to find answers. Jules, Lena, Katie’s family, the local police, and even the town witch — a descendant of the first woman believed to be murdered in the river, persecuted for witch-craft — are all searching for the truth.

These investigations delve into suicides and murders stretching back far into the town’s history, all spurred on by Nel’s book notes which seem to suggest very few of the deaths that have happened at the Drowning Pool could be seen as suicides…but rather acts aimed at “getting rid of troublesome women.”

The novel that follows is fast-paced, nerve-wracking, and deliciously scandalous! Filled with Hawkin’s signature misdirection, half-told truths, and out-of-order sequencing: the story slowly reveals not one, not two, but many, many crimes that are lurking under the serene surface of Beckford and its river.

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