When you write a book as successful as The Girl on the Train, expectations for your second novel are going to be through the roof. Paula Hawkins crafted one of the most page-turning novels of the year with Girl.
For her sophomore effort, Hawkins presents another shifting viewpoint mystery/thriller, but this time around readers are given more than three characters viewpoints to follow. With Into the Water, Hawkins attempts to go a bit deeper into the mystery of two drowning in a small town and the impact the crime has on the community. Like many of today’s better mystery writers, Hawkins’ story is not just interested in revealing the solution to the crime but also at the factors that led to the crime being committed and what that means for the characters that inhabit her world.
With Water, Hawkins is trying to put herself in the same pantheon as Laura Lippman, Michael Connelly or Elizabeth George. But while the mystery presented is a deeper one that Train, I’m not entirely sure that Hawkins is quite up the task just yet. Part of the issue comes from the fact that the cast of viewpoints is doubled or even tripled this time around. From the teenage girl who has lost her mother, to her aunt, to the police officer who has been assigned the case after leaving her previous position with a cloud hanging over her career and conduct, Hawkins puts a lot of plates in the air. And some of the personal storylines end up being more compelling than others.
Hawkins also requires a bit more of an investment from the reader early on in the story than she did with Train. Paying attention to who is narrating each section is vitally important, not only for the unfolding mystery but also to examine the impact of the crime on the various participants in our story. At one point about midway through the novel, I found myself curious to know if the audiobook of Water might not have been better simply because it would be easier to keep track of who is speaking or relating events to the reader.
In the end, Water never quite has the grip that Girl did. Part of it is because the case is larger than what we saw with Girl. But another part seems to be that it feels like Hawkins has overextended herself with this one, trying to top what she did with Girl. It may also not help that I was able to deduce certain elements of the denouncement long before any of our characters did. Whether this is the multiple points of view and knowing more than the person narrating each section did or that the big reveals in the last third of the novel are a bit more “typical mystery” than the elements of Girl on the Train, I will leave up to you to decide.