The Woods–Harlan Coben (Audio)

I will not say the writing in this novel was at classic level, unless it is classic murder mystery prose.  These types of weaknesses become more apparent in audio, where you read at the narrator’s speed rather than letter your eyes fly over the words as you look for the next clue.

The premise was interesting, which was what led me to purchase this from Audible.  The son of Russian immigrants turned New Jersey prosecutor is in the midst of a difficult rape case when the decades-old disappearance/murder of his sister and three other summer campers resurfaces in the shape of a middle-aged man’s body found in an alley that seems to be one of the missing campers.

Paul Copeland, “Cope,” is a widower (his rich beautiful perfect wife died of cancer six years previously) with a young daughter.  His father is recently deceased and his last words, to find her, haunt Cope.  Fortunately, he has a saint for a sister-in-law and a jovial brother-in-law who help pick up the slack with his daughter when the overpaid nanny is unable to care for her.  He has a solid moral center, but he lied to investigators the summer his sister disappeared.  He left cabin guard duty to sneak into the woods and make love to his girlfriend.  He lied, of course, to protect her, but our hackles go up a little.  Lies from a prosecutor?

The Woods is full of stock characters, including Cope’s lead investigator, Muse, a middle-aged, single woman who wears practical shoes and, although reed thin, eats like a horse.   Cope’s teenage love is an alcoholic English professor with a doctorate in psychology whose students all post positive online reviews of her classes.  Her father, the owner of the summer camp, is a stock aged hippie, complete with vintage yellow VW Beetle.  And, yes, because Cope is the son of Russian immigrants, the KGB makes an appearance.

I cannot say with confidence that I would have listened to this book had I known the level of writing, which became distracting to the point that my husband and children were mocking it when they were in the car when I was listening to it.  The end was also disappointing–cliche and vague.  If you like a book that lets you make fun of it or you want a quick beach read, The Woods might suffice.

Finished 6/21/15

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The Girl on the Train–Paula Hawkins (Audio)

I love procedural crime novels for their predictability, but once in awhile it is thrilling to find an author who can design a murder mystery that is truly suspenseful from page one to the end.  Paula Hawkins begins her novel mysteriously.  A woman is riding on a train.  We are not sure from where to where or why, but Hawkins shows us immediately into her heart.  She is an outsider who watches people from the train.  Hawkins slowly  reveals bits and pieces of Rachel’s story and then expands the lens to her ex-husband and his new family, their neighbors, and her roommate.  Even when the lens is expanded Hawkins slowly changes our view of Rachel. Eventually the narration rotates between Rachel, Anna (the second wife of Rachel’s ex), and Megan (Anna’s neighbor who had disappeared) and Hawkins destabilizes our trust in the narrative.  Who sees things closest to how they really are?  What are the women not telling us?  How can we triangulate their stories and reveal more than they intended?  Even Rachel does not trust her own narration as she struggles to regain a memory from a black out that niggles at the corners of her mind.

Hawkins populates her novel with red herrings and potential culprits.  At one point I suspected everyone except the lead detective investigating Megan’s disappearance.  Her cast of characters are complex.  Only Detective Riley seems drawn from the stock characters of the mystery genre.  These complex characters and the small twists in their stories are what contribute to Hawkins’ sustaining the thrill.  She takes us into the neuroses of the narrators and makes us feel strongly about them.  I cheered for Rachel even while suspecting her of murder.  Hawkins leads us to empathize with Anna, who is stalked by her husband’s ex-wife, and then to despise her as a judgmental hypocritical homewrecker.  She plays with our emotions so that we are not sure we can trust ourselves as readers.  Even after Hawkins reveals the guilty party, she continues to hold us in suspense until the bitter end.  I could not stop listening.

The Girl on the Train is reminiscent of Gone Girl and, although I love Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl cannot compare to the suspense of The Girl on the Train.  I eagerly await Paula Hawkins’ follow up novel.

Finished 6/14/15