I’m writing this post from under a pile of essays – or at least it feels that way. In any case, time for a quick breather from marking to flag up two interesting reads, both from the UK.
While on a train journey recently, I couldn’t resist starting Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train (Riverhead 2015), a psychological thriller that’s been a huge word-of-mouth hit. Its ‘accidental detective’ is Rachel Watson, a rail-commuter who in true Rear Window fashion, sees something disturbing out of the window that will change her life. The novel is a very enjoyable ride (albeit with a few too many coincidences towards the end), but what I particularly liked about it was its characterisation. Rachel, whose life has disintegrated since the end of her marriage, is a complex creation who gives a vivid insight into the destructive effects of alcoholism. She makes for a very intriguing investigator, especially as her drinking means she sometimes can’t trust her own memory.
The author is originally from Zimbabwe, although she’s lived in the UK for many years. There’s an interesting Guardian article on her and the novel here.
Rachel reminded me of another excellent female investigator I encountered recently – 82-year-old Maud Horsham in Emma Healey’s Elizabeth is Missing (Viking 2014). Maud is also investigating a mystery – the disappearance of her best friend Elizabeth – and does so in the most difficult of circumstances: she has dementia and her memory, or rather lack of memory, is constantly tripping her up. A gripping psychological crime novel, Elizabeth also offers the reader a sobering and moving exploration of what it’s like to live with dementia – both for Maud as an individual and for her family. Like Rachel, Maud is portrayed as a determined, characterful, complex woman. I enjoyed meeting both of them very much.
Come to think of it, we could add Christine Lucas from S. J. Watson’s Before I go to Sleep to these two. Do we have a little subgenre emerging?