The Woman in Cabin 10
By Ruth Ware. (Scout Press, 340 pages, $26.)
Laura Blacklock is a writer for a British travel magazine. When a dream assignment lands in her lap — covering the weeklong inaugural cruise of a five-star “boutique” ship with just 10 swanky cabins for passengers pursuing the Northern Lights in the Norwegian fjords — she leaps at the chance.
But the poor girl is off to a rough start. Her flat is broken into just before she leaves for the trip, and her encounter with the masked burglar leaves her terrorized and on edge. She leaves for the cruise exhausted from the police investigation and a lack of sleep.
On her first night in the lap of luxury, she succumbs to an abundance of gourmet food, free wine and whiskey and falls into a deep slumber.
She awakes to an unidentifiable noise — a muffled scream? — and hears an ominous splash from the veranda of Cabin 10 next door. Running to her balcony, Laura glimpses what she’s sure is a dainty white hand disappearing under the frigid North Atlantic waves. Blood smears the glass railing next to hers.
Her dream trip turns to nightmare as she tries to persuade the ship’s officers of what she saw, even though all passengers and crew are accounted for. She’s seized by suspicion, paranoia and panic attacks, fueled by the claustrophobia of being on a small ship far from cellphone reception and police.
With a churning plot worthy of Agatha Christie, and fresh on the heels of her bestselling thriller “In a Dark, Dark Wood,” Ruth Ware twists the wire on readers’ nerves once again. “Cabin 10” just may do to cruise vacations what “Jaws” did to ocean swimming. You’ll be afraid to go out on the water.
Ginny Greene, copy editor
The Blue Bath
By Mary Waters-Sayer. (St. Martin’s Press, 307 pages, $25.99.)
At first, “The Blue Bath” seems to be just a particularly well-written take on an old story, one often encountered in more sophisticated “chick lit” — the pleasures and perils of an extramarital affair. Kat Lind, an American married to an very busy English businessman, is conveniently left alone at their posh London home while her husband goes on a long business trip and their little boy stays with her in-laws so she can mourn her mother, who’s just died of cancer.
To distract herself from her grief, Kat goes to an exhibit by Daniel Blake, an artist who was her lover 20 years earlier in Paris, and darned if the giant paintings hanging on the gallery walls aren’t of her in the buff. She’s mortified — or is she thrilled? One thing quickly leads to another, and soon Kat and Daniel are enmeshed in a torrid, troubled affair that is both enhanced and inhibited by Daniel’s youthful paintings of Kat’s body parts, which suddenly become all the rage in the London art scene.
Neither Kat nor Daniel is particularly likable, partly because their wealth gives them plenty of time and privacy for middle-aged angst. What sets this novel above other gauzy, wistful escapist tales of American women having affairs in Europe is how well it’s written, without pretense or bad psychology, and its realistic portrayal of how much damage an affair can wreak. Waters-Sayer is able to convey both the mad pleasure of such passion and the cruel wounds it inflicts upon the guilty and innocent alike.
In Kat and Daniel’s case, the secrecy becomes an isolating trap, and the novel’s bizarre ending, while melodramatic, is also wholly believable. This perhaps unintentionally anti-romantic novel paints a lot of pretty pictures, then destroys them. Reading it makes for a fine guilty pleasure.
PAMELA MILLER, night metro editor