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New suspense novel sure to garner awards

It isn’t often we come across a book that after reading only a few pages it is obvious that it will top the charts and win big literary prizes.

Conditions were there when Murder Ink previewed Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn in December 2012 and again in Chelsea Cain’s Heartsick the month before, and of course Sieg Larssen’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the sequels that blew the roof off the shed. Murder Ink also heaped on great praise and predicted widespread recognition last October for Allen Eskens’ debut novel The Life We Bury, and just last week this terrific story won the prestigious Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for the best first novel by an American author.

We have another crime fiction phenomenon before us, a debut novel by veteran journalist Paula Hawkins from England, released in hardcover by Riverhead Books a couple of weeks ago: The Girl on the Train. The book is nothing short of breathtaking in the same teasing and suspenseful way Gone Girl toyed with our nervous system. The girl on the train is Rachel Watson, divorced from remarried Brian Watson and living temporarily with a college friend. Rachel is depressive and alcoholic and lying all of the time to anyone who will listen, and to herself who is not listening most of the time – borrowing money from her mother to spruce up her wardrobe for work, commuting on the 8:04 every morning to London and the 5:56 every evening back to Ashbury for a job she has long since lost.

Rachel sits in the same seat on the commuter train, and every morning, when her train stops at Blenheim Road signal light, a few houses down from where she used to live and where Brian still lives with his new wife, Anna, and their new baby, Rachel sees out the window a loving couple breakfasting in their tidy little urban garden. She is comforted by this blissful tableau; it calms her pixilated nerves, provides the only normalcy aside from her troublesome drinking and incessant commuting.

One morning, Rachel sees another man in the garden being affectionate with her adopted idol, and circuits short out in Rachel’s muzzy mind. Old memories surface. Treacheries bubble up. And with time on her hands, and enough canned gin and tonics, Rachel investigates herself right into the murder of another young wife down the block, Megan Hipwell who used to caretake for her ex-husband’s baby while his new wife was having a nervous breakdown over what she perceives as Rachel’s constant harassment.

Convinced that the husband absent from the garden that one morning is involved in the death of someone Rachel never met, she becomes by increments the quixotic champion of a circuitous betrayal where nobody seems to be telling the truth, even poor, dead Megan herself.

It’s great stuff what Hawkins made here. All the actors in Rachel’s dysfunctional circle give off the same kinky thrum as did Amy Dunne in Gone Girl. In The Girl on the Train, though, we see it all through the other end of the prism where big things look small and the eyeball is grotesque.

Don’t miss this one.

Jeff@jeffMannix.com. Jeff Mannix is a local journalist and author.

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