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THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins: Book Review

There’s a good reason that The Girl on the Train is a #1 New York Times best-seller.  It’s a fabulous read.

Rachel is the girl on the train and one of the book’s narrators.  She’s been fired from her job in the city but still tells her best friend, in whose house she’s renting a room, that she goes to work every day.

This daily train trip creates a problem for her.  The train passes the house she and her ex-husband Tom lived in when they were married and where he lives now with his new wife and child.  It also passes another house on that street where a young couple named Megan and Scott live; although she doesn’t even know their names, Rachel has created a fantasy life for them in her mind.

Megan is the second narrator we meet.  She’s outwardly happy, but she’s hiding a secret from years ago that is tormenting her and making her put herself in dangerous situations.  Rachel doesn’t know Megan and Scott, but in her imaginary world she has re-named them Jess and Jason and made them the perfect couple, and her obsessive fascination with them is the spark for the novel’s tragedy.

Anna is the third narrator.  Anna was Tom’s mistress during his marriage to Rachel, and she has no regrets about her part in their breakup.  She does regret that she has to live in the house that Tom lived in during his first marriage, but he tells her they can’t afford to move.  In addition, she is bothered because Tom can’t seem to get rid of Rachel, who calls and texts him constantly, going so far as to enter their house without their knowledge or permission.  Why does she persist in these behaviors, Anna wonders, when she knows Tom doesn’t want her?

The tensions in the three women grow to the breaking point.  Each is intertwined in the others’ lives both knowingly and unknowingly.  Rachel and Anna, of course, are aware of each other, but Rachel doesn’t know Megan or anything about her until well into the novel.  However, when Rachel does get entangled in Megan’s life, it leads to the climax that pulls all the threads together.

The Girl on the Train is a terrific thriller, with characters the reader can relate to and in whom they can believe.  We may not want to have any of these women or the men in their lives as friends, but we can understand their foibles and problems, even sympathizing with them while at the same time condemning their actions.  That’s real life, and Paula Hawkins shows it to us.

You can read more about Paula Hawkins at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.





NORTH OF BOSTON by Elisabeth Elo: Book Review

North of Boston is an excellent title for Elisabeth Elo’s debut mystery novel.  But it could also be called Here, There, and Everywhere because the story ranges from Boston to Florida to Labrador.  It’s a terrific, fast ride that will leave the reader breathless.

Pirio Kasparav has just survived four hours in the freezing waters of Boston harbor after a collision between her friend’s lobster boat and a huge freighter/tanker.  Both she and the lobster boat’s owner, Ned Rizzo, are thrown into the water, but while Pirio survives, Ned’s body is never found, even after hours of searching by the Coast Guard.

Now Pirio has become a sort of instant mini-celebrity due to her survival in water with temperature no human “should” have been able to endure.  She doesn’t have any explanation for why her body didn’t shut down, but the Navy is interested and wants to fly her down to Florida for a series of physical and mental tests.  Pirio thinks she had enough tests as a defiant adolescent to last a lifetime, but a weekend in sunny Florida sounds too good to miss.

In the meantime, there is Ned’s funeral to deal with, along with the alcoholism of Pirio’s best friend Thomasina, the mother of Noah, the ten-year-old child resulting from the brief romance of Thomasina and Ned.  With a history of drugs and alcohol, Thomasina is certainly not the ideal mother, and Pirio is reluctantly forced to pick up the slack when her friend is put in jail overnight, leaving Noah on his own.

After an interview with a commander from the Coast Guard, Pirio believes that the authorities are too willing to call the collision an accident and investigate no further.   Angry and frustrated by the government’s lack of concern, Pirio decides to look into the matter herself.  “Because if a child’s parent has to be killed in a freak accident, that child deserves to see an aftermath of concern and accountability,” she thinks.  We empathize as Pirio is drawn into the investigation, tracking down how Ned became the owner of the lobster boat immediately after quitting his job at Ocean Catch, as she puts herself in danger while trying to find the answers to give to Noah.

Elisabeth Elo has surrounded Pirio with a group of fascinating characters.  Thomasina, whom Pirio has known since they were adolescents in boarding school together, is a mess–a woman with a genius  I.Q. who drinks, takes drugs, and is available for nearly any man who is close by; Noah, her gifted son, bereft by his father’s death and wondering how the collision between his father’s lobster boat and the never-found freighter/tanker could have happened; the mysterious “Larry Wozniack,” who crashes Ned’s funeral, pretending to have been a friend of the deceased; and Johnny O, a friend and co-worker with Ned at Ocean Catch and formerly Pirio’s lover.  

North of Boston is an exciting read, a novel that’s hard to put down.  In this, the author’s first novel, she has introduced a charismatic heroine to the Boston mystery scene.

You can read more about Elisabeth Elo at this web site

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.


W IS FOR WASTED by Sue Grafton: Book Review

Kinsey Millhone is back, and I’m delighted to see her.  There’s a lot going on in W is for Wasted–a will, long-lost relatives, an unethical private eye, a returning former lover–but it all hangs together, given Sue Grafton’s always excellent character studies and plots.  The story is told in the first person by Kinsey and in the third person by Pete Wolinsky, whom we discover is dead in the third sentence of the prologue.

It’s 1988, and Kinsey is taking a brief vacation from investigating.  Her bank balance is healthy, her needs are modest, and she’s delighted to have a few days to herself.  Then she gets a call from a friend at the coroner’s office, asking her to identify a body The deceased was homeless, and a slip of paper found in his pocket bore Kinsey’s name and phone number.

When Kinsey goes to view the body in the morgue she tells the coroner’s assistant she has never seen the man before.   Intrigued by why the deceased was apparently trying to contact her, she decides to try to find out who this man was.  From small acorns do mighty oaks grow.

Kinsey’s first stop is the area where the body was found, and there she meets three of the man’s friends.  After a bit of verbal sparring, one of the trio tells her Terrence was the dead man’s name, and Kinsey’s investigation begins.

Deceased private investigator Pete Wolinsky’s story is told by an unknown narrator.  He was a P.I. without a moral compass, a man who got others to do his investigating, falsified his expense accounts, owed money to countless businesses, didn’t file tax returns, and wasn’t above subtle extortion attempts.  That last one was a big mistake on his part.

As readers of the alphabet series know, Kinsey was orphaned at an early age and raised by her maternal aunt.  Aunt Gin wasn’t much of a warm-and-fuzzy person, and she apparently had no use for the members of her family other than Kinsey.  Thus Kinsey didn’t know, until years after her aunt’s death, that she had a large family on her mother’s side living not far from her home in Santa Teresa, California.

She’d never been much interested in them and had seen no reason to look into her father’s side of the family.  But now they’ve entered her life with a vengeance.

Several familiar characters are in W, and very welcome they are.  Of course there’s Henry Pitts, the octogenarian landlord, former baker, and current provider of delicious meals and desserts for Kinsey; his older brother William, a confirmed hypochondriac; Rosie Pitts, recently married to William and owner of the nearby Hungarian restaurant where Kinsey eats most of her meals; and Kinsey’s former lover, Robert Dietz.  And there’s a new addition:  Ed the cat, who soon has Kinsey and Henry eating out of his hand (or paw).

W is for Wasted is another winning novel by Sue Grafton.  It’s fun for me, who knew Kinsey from the beginning (A is for Alibi), to follow her personal and professional life.  She has not remained a stagnant figure, stuck in time, but has grown into a mature woman who still has the recognizable quirks that made her a success from the beginning of the series.

You can read more about Sue Grafton at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Reads blog at her web site.