Paula Hawkins follows her debut smash, The Girl on the Train, with the twisty and compulsive Into the Water. Told through multiple viewpoints, the story immerses the reader in a complex web of suspense, suspicion and emotional turmoil as her characters wrestle with the recent drowning of a single mother and a teenage girl, their bodies found weeks apart at the bottom of a river known as the Drowning Pool. Both deaths are initially treated as suicides, but doubts and secrets abound, prompting speculation of another cause entirely.
Unlike The Girl on the Train, which alternated narratives from two main characters and, later in the book, a third, Into the Water features more than a dozen storytellers, leaving readers hard-pressed to keep them all straight without a set of flash cards. None of the voices is exactly eager to divulge everything they know, leaving readers to piece together the overarching truth from each chapter. But the deeper readers proceed, the easier it is to be swept away by the assorted voices and the secrets they conceal. Hawkins skillfully delves into the psyche of each character, extracting their feelings, fears and fallacies, slowly ramping up the psychological suspense as she goes.
That said, it’s difficult to discern whose story this actually is. One could argue that the lead character is Jules Abbott, sister of Nel Abbott, who dies at the outset of the book. But you could also argue that Nel’s daughter, Lena, is the novel’s main protagonist. Hawkins keeps you guessing, and in doing so loses some of the emotional impact of creating a single character to root for and sympathize with.
Into the Water is ultimately a story of families mired in secrets and uneasy relationships, haunted by the past and fearful of facing the truth in the present. The book builds slowly, requiring patience above all from readers but with the promise of a more compelling latter half of the book.