The Woman in Cabin 10
No one does spooky without the supernatural element better than Ruth Ware, and The Woman in Cabin 10 is proof for any who doubt it.
Laura, or Lo as she prefers to be called, Blacklock is a writer for a prestigious travel magazine, and is looking forward to joining other important guests for the maiden voyage of the luxurious cruise ship, The Aurora. This trip is her chance to prove her worth as a journalist and earn a promotion.
Two days before she is to embark, Lo wakes to find a burglar in her flat. “But when I opened the bedroom door, there was a man standing there.”
She is unable to describe him to the police, because he is wearing a hoodie and a bandanna around his face. But she saw his hands in latex gloves. “Those gloves said, ‘I know what I’m doing.’ They said, ‘I’ve come prepared.’ They said, ‘I might be after more than your money.’”
The burglar locks Lo in her bedroom, and it takes her two hours to escape. Already a victim of recurring anxiety attacks for which she has taken medication most of her life, Lo is almost unable to function after her experience. “My little flat felt ruined—soiled and violated.”
She flees to her boyfriend Judah’s’ empty flat because she can’t sleep in her own. When Judah unexpectedly returns from a business trip and attempts to awaken Lo, she panics and attacks him. “The man’s hand was over my mouth now, smothering me, the weight of him choking me, and with all my strength, I lifted up the heavy lamp and brought it crashing down.”
Lo is horrified at what she has done, but her emotions lead her to a rejection of Judah, and she leaves for the cruise ship still sleep deprived and unsure whether she has ended her relationship with Judah.
Things are no better aboard The Aurora. The ship is small, with only ten cabins, and its proportions are off-putting. “—a little like looking in through the doorway of a doll’s house, where everything is miniaturized and yet slightly off-kilter . . .”
Desperate for sleep, but unable to skip a formal reception, Lo tries to hid her tired-looking features with makeup. Unable to find her mascara, she borrows a tube from the woman in Cabin 10. “She was young and pretty with long, dark hair, and she was wearing a ratty Pink Floyd T-shirt with holes, which somehow made me like her quite a lot.”
Lo doesn’t see the girl at the reception, but she does meet photographer Cole Lederer, and her former lover, Ben Howard, who had dumped her several years before. Also, she meets famous travel writer Tina West and Archer Fenlan, best known for eating strange foods during his “extreme travels.”
It is Lord Bullmer, owner of The Aurora, that Lo desperately needs to meet. If she is to make a journalistic splash with her coverage of the voyage, she must interview him.
Lord Bullmer’s wife, Anne, is a shock to Lo. The woman is dressed in a gray garment that is halfway between a kimono and a dressing gown with a head scarf wrapped around a bare skull. “She been ill,” Ben Howard whispers. “Breast cancer. I think it was pretty serious.”
Lo wonders why the woman is on the voyage, ill as she seems. “Maybe she didn’t have long to live. Maybe she was trying to make the most of her time.”
Exhausted, Lo drinks too much, hoping that the alcohol will help her sleep if this interminable reception will ever end. Anne Bullmer leaves early, and Lo wishes she could, too.
When Lo does leave, a very unwelcome Ben Howard accompanies her and makes a rough, intimate grab at her. She retaliates with a knee to his groin, then bursts into tears. Between sobs she tells him about the burglar. “I can’t cope anymore, Ben ever since the burglar I’ve been—I think I’m going mad.”
She wonders even more when a scream awakens her, and she hears a loud splash as if something—or someone—has been thrown off the balcony of the cabin next to hers. Rushing out onto her own balcony she hangs over the railing and believes she sees “ . . . something beneath the crest of a black wave—a white swirling white shape that trailed beneath the surface as it sank, like a woman’s hand.”
She also sees a long smear of blood on the glass safety barrier of the next door balcony. Worse than the blood is her realization that whoever threw the woman overboard would have heard rushing onto her own balcony. The murderer would have seen her face.
Lo calls the security chief, but he doubts her word. Cabin 10, where she has seen the dark-haired girl, is completely empty, and its occupant is nowhere on board. Ben obligingly tells the security chief that Lo is subject to anxiety attacks, is on medication, drinks too much, and is experiencing PTSD since her burglary. All things necessary to make Lo’s story sound like the hallucination of a hysterical woman.
Between each new section of the story are increasingly frantic emails and Facebook postings from Judah, Lo’s mother, and her friends. Lo has not been seen since The Aurora docked. She has disappeared and a body wearing her clothes is found floating off the coast.
Although a plot involving a woman who witnesses a murder but is not believed is not new to the mystery genre, Ruth Ware updates it, adding the anxiety attacks and Lo’s drinking, as well as the burglary, to increase believability.
The Woman in Cabin 10 is a strong follow-up to Ware’s her debut suspense novel In a Dark, Dark Wood (2015) and will not disappoint.