reviews

The Woman in the Window: A.J. Finn

The Woman in the Window: A.J. Finn
Genre: Thriller
Published: 2018
Pages: 427 (paperback)

Anna Fox is a prisoner of her own home. She can’t venture outside; she’ll have a panic attack if she does. Trapped inside, she spends her time watching classic movies and spying on their neighbors. She is especially fascinated by her new neighbors, the Russells. They are the perfect family. One night, Anna is watching them and sees something terrible. Should she get involved? With her drinking habit, how does she know that she even saw it to begin with? What is real and what isn’t? Perhaps nothing is what it seems.

A defining characteristic of this story is not just who did it or what happened, but the style in which it’s told. The last time I read a “film noir” style story, I was disappointed. The author got so lost in description that I forgot what I was reading about, the characters acted like robots, and not very much happened. So I had been dancing around picking this up over the course of several trips to the bookstore.

Fortunately, I had the opposite experience with The Woman in the Window. Finn creates a vintage, chilling atmosphere by describing in detail Anna’s house, in turns creepy and comforting. The descriptions, too, are concise and get to the point. Each detail adds and is relevant to the creepy feeling of the book, making for an enjoyable reading experience. Word choices are poetic, but never too much so. Overall, a great job there. Megan Abbott should take notes. The language was just as much fun to read as the plotline was.

I, unfortunately, was at a disadvantage when it came to plot twists. The first twist was the exact same twist that occurred in the previous book I read, which was not even a thriller. Yeah. It was literally the same twist. I unfortunately wasn’t too surprised, but this is in no way the author’s fault; the odds of reading a book, especially in two subgenres, with the exact same twist, are terrible. Objectively, I think it was a great idea. This is just a warning to readers not to read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine around the same time. And even if you do, and aren’t surprised, there are even more twists that will surprise you and reel you in. What truly defines a family? As we all know, we can never make assumptions. A spooky atmosphere isn’t much without the action, and Finn provides us with plenty of moments to pique our interest.

As for the characters, the protagonist is nobody we haven’t seen before. Anna Fox lives alone and has interests relevant to the themes in the book–in this case, thrilling classic movies. I don’t usually like when authors constantly drop references to what inspired their work and explicitly point out how they were inspired via the narrator, but in this case, I thought it was a fun quirk, alongside her chess playing. She did something bad that made me lose a lot of sympathy for her revealed in flashbacks, the bad thing being somewhat of a trope by now. She loves to drink wine. And…deep sigh…..missing fathers do play a minor role as well. I don’t understand for the life of me why we can’t ever have a character that gets along with their living dad. Fortunately, they’re barely talked about. The mentions were just enough to make me roll my eyes before getting back to reading. Despite the presence of tropes, including detectives who could be more competent, the novel surprisingly rarely descends into cliche territory. I personally never knew what was going to happen next. Even more interesting are the interactions that Anna has with others. I especially liked GrannyLizzie, a user that Anna talks to on her online agoraphobia community, and Ethan, the teenage boy next door that Anna bonds with. I also liked that Anna had a young daughter. Still, the fairly typical MC issue takes a backseat to the chilling way the story is told. And with her supposed unreliability, she was interesting all the same.

(SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!!:

I did notice one gaping plothole that bothered me: How can Anna live alone and afford the house if her husband isn’t living? If this is addressed and I’ve just forgotten, please leave a comment.)

This was a thrilling, well-paced novel that any thriller fan should pick up, but be warned that it will be tough to put down. Complete with the rare satisfying climactic scenes, this is a must for your collection. If I had nitpicky complaints, it would be that I thought that one chilling scene near the end wasn’t necessary and the aforementioned plothole, but those are very minor and don’t take away from the story. The uniqueness of The Woman in the Window makes it a great addition to the genre.

5 stars



reviews

The Breakdown: B.A. Paris

The Breakdown: B.A. Paris

Genre: Thriller

Published: 2017

Pages: 328

Cass Anderson’s life changes forever when she drives past a woman sitting in her car on the way home from an outing with her coworkers. She could have stopped (and actually did for a moment), but did nothing to help her. The following day, the woman is found dead.

As her guilt begins to set in, she finds herself forgetting everything, from where she parked to the gift she’d say she’d ordered for a friend of hers. Not comforting is the fact that her mother had early-onset dementia. But when she begins to receive strange phone calls and believes that someone is entering the house, she wonders: is she going crazy, or is someone actually looking for revenge?

This novel is a thrill ride from the get-go that kept me reading.

At first I wanted to roll my eyes. There is a mention of Cass’ missing father just a few pages in. At first, I wanted to be like “UGH SERIOUSLY MORE MISSING FATHERS, B.A. PARIS??” (In case you couldn’t tell, this is one of my biggest writing trope pet peeves these days because they’re in almost every book I read lately and often have no place in the story.)  Fortunately, this issue dissolves making me wonder why it’s there in the first place. But I have to give Paris credit, because there may actually be a reason for the mention of the dead dad. Finally! (If you’ll forgive a minor spoiler, if that, I was also happy to see that the “surprise pregnancy” trope wasn’t here either.) 

There is action in this story from the beginning. Cass is enjoying her simple life as a teacher with her husband until the night of the wreck, when things turn upside down. Readers, including Cass, may believe that the victim’s murderer is following her because she neglected to help the woman in the car. But Cass makes a lot of false assumptions throughout the book, and her faulty memory doesn’t help. Between her legitimate fear of dementia, the possible people or things following her, and more, her readers won’t know who to trust. This suspense is enhanced by the cast of characters: Cass’ fellow schoolteachers including a guy that might like her, her loyal childhood best friend, her husband who just gets more and more annoyed by her memory issues as time goes on, people passing through (like the man installing their house alarm). There are plenty of possible people that could be behind anything. Also interesting is the story of the victim herself. It’s someone that Cass may have ties to. Additionally, the actual crime of the woman’s murder and what is going on in Cass’ life seem to be different stories at times. I enjoyed seeing how everything came together. Yes, it was slightly convoluted. But I wasn’t able to guess anything either and I enjoyed the mind trip.

One thing that I was afraid of was predictability–I think most readers familiar with the genre will guess who or what is behind Cass’ breakdown very early on. (To be fair, there is another possible culprit I had in mind.) However, what makes up for this is that figuring out that particular who/what is only one part of the story. There is more going on than meets the eye, and I doubt readers will be able to figure out the entire thing. At least, I didn’t. 

The one thing that did disappoint me was the ending, or rather how it was handled. Cass finds out the reason for everything and…that’s it. It’s very abrupt and there’s not even a thrilling climax with a confrontation or anything. It’s a little exposition-y, and we don’t even see other characters’ reactions. That disappointed me. Although the action and suspense is full speed ahead from page 1, the place where it should have come to a head was lacking in both. 

Still, this was an exciting read and I couldn’t wait to keep coming back for more. I think that her first novel, Behind Closed Doors, is going to be a must-read for me. Again, readers familiar with the genre might find a couple of things predictable but I enjoyed it nonetheless. That does, though, make it a good book to start with if this is your first thriller foray.

4 stars