The hardest reviews are not the ones about good books, or about bad ones (in fact, writing reviews about bad books is easy and so much fun it’s almost worth reading a bad book for. Almost). The hardest ones to write are the ones about books that were just okay. The Woman in Cabin 10 is one of those books. It’s bubblegum. It’s popcorn. It’s cheese, but not the good kind, no, the average kind from the supermarket that’s good as sandwich filling but not much else. Better than Velveeta but not quite Belgian abbey cheese. There’s plenty of cheese to be found, though. It even has a couple of holes.
Laura ‘Lo’ Blackwood is a travel journalist whose boss sends her on a luxury cruise through the Norwegian fjords. And by luxury I mean luxury. The cruise ship caters to the one percenters. It has only ten cabins, but also a sauna, a spa, a jacuzzi, a library, two dining rooms, a lounge, and a staff ratio of about 2:1. The night before Lo enters the ship, though, a man breaks into her house, locks her in her bedroom and makes off with her purse. Shaken but undeterred, Lo proceeds to board the ship, determined to make the best of it and finally force her boss to promote her. But when the woman in the cabin next to her suddenly disappears, Lo finds the entire ship disinterested. When she presses the staff, they insist the cabin next to her was empty and that no guests have gone missing.
The idea of a missing person on a cruise ship is a fairly intriguing one, and not implausible; it has happened more than once, such as in the case of Rebecca Coriam, who disappeared off a Disney cruise several years ago (Disney, predictably, tried to hush it all up and was less than helpful). The problem with this particular plot is two-fold: there’s a credibility issue, and there’s the fact that Lo is a maddening protagonist.
Characters don’t have to be perfect; in fact, I prefer it when they’re not. But there’s imperfect, and there’s annoying. Lo is a nervous wreck and as a reader I wanted to slap her several times during the novel – for not thinking things through, for alienating everyone else on the ship, and for generally being a high-maintenance nuisance. Part of this has to do with the plot – there’s no fun in it if everyone believes Lo – but she’s annoying as all fuck. The second part that bothered me is the dime-a-dozen resolution of the plot. The idea behind the novel is intriguing, but the resolution is something I’ve read or seen dozens of times before. The writing’s not half bad, but I feel like it’s a waste of a good idea.
Ultimately, while I did enjoy reading this, it kind of petered out as I read along. It started strong – Lo’s not half as annoying off the ship than she is on it , plus I’m down with the eat-the-rich vibe it’s giving off – but it all kind of ends up as a big, grey goop of predictability and stereotypes. And that’s a shame, because Ware is not a half bad writer. I will read some of her other books. I just hope they’re better than this one.