Into the Water opens with a disturbing scene – a young woman is bound by two or more men and drowned in icy water. There is no sense given of when this happened or who she is other than her name, Libby. So, from the very beginning there is an undercurrent of danger. The novel proper begins in the town of Beckford in Northumberland where the death of Nel Abbott has just occurred. Nel was a writer researching the women who have, over the centuries, died in the Drowning Pool, a bend in the river near Beckford. The most recent death, before Nel’s, is that of her daughter’s friend Katie, an apparent suicide a few months earlier. It is assumed that Nel’s leap from the cliff overlooking the Drowning Pool, is suicide too. But not everyone is so certain, certainly not her estranged sister Jules, nor the local psychic, the appropriately named Nickie Sage. Nel herself had written ‘Beckford is not a suicide spot. Beckford is a place to get rid of troublesome women’.
Into the Water slowly unravels the mystery surrounding not only Nel’s drowning but those of the other women over the years. The bulk of the story takes place in the month of August 2015, although it does dart back and forth between the present and the 17th century, the 1920s, 1993 and earlier in 2015, seemingly at random. It is told from fourteen points of view, some only appearing once or twice in the narrative – Jules, Nel’s daughter Lena, her friend Katie, Katie’s mother and brother, a local school teacher, the headmistress who is also the wife of Detective Inspector Sean Townsend investigating the case, his father and his dead mother as well as DS Erin Morgan an outsider banished to Beckford for professional misconduct, two women drowned in the Pool in the past, and finally the psychic who speaks to her dead sister, a former policewoman who seems to know more about what is going on than anyone else. None are reliable and not one person is fully likable. Some characters are presented in the first person, some in the third; an excerpt of Nel’s own writing is also included. There are so many voices that, for at least the first third of the book, I found I had to keep flicking back to work out who was speaking. As a reader I am happy to do a little work, I do not expect everything to be laid out for me but, initially, I did find this book a bit of a challenge to keep track of. Other than the use of first and third person, none of the characters has a unique voice, unfortunately, which would have helped.
The prose is straightforward and works as an unobtrusive vehicle for the story. To add to the central mystery, information is withheld until the end. Once I was able to get a grip on the multiple characters and the structure, the story was compelling with gripping and terrifying moments towards the end. Had the story been told in a straightforward manner the murder and/or suicide would, perhaps, be seen as quite prosaic. In the end though, I was a slightly irritated, feeling that it was all a little bit too clever. Still, Into the Water is a good holiday read for lovers of murder mysteries and puzzles.
A longer review can be found here.
2 thoughts on “Book Review – Into the Water by Paula Hawkins”
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