The narrator of British author, Ruth Ware’s suspenseful, sophomore effort, “The Woman in Cabin 10,” is Laura “Lo” Blacklock. Lo, as she prefers to be called, is a writer for Velocity magazine, a publication that specializes in high-end travel. Opportunity for career advancement presents itself to Lo, which comes in the guise of a new luxury cruise ship, The Aurora, especially, if Lo can conduct a successful interview with the Aurora’s owner, Lord Richard Bullmer. The cruise ship includes a spa, cocktail lounge, chandeliers, marble staircases, and staff members that always seem to have a glass of champagne at the ready for a guest, but it is no ordinary luxury liner. The Aurora was built for those who are both wealthy and have discerning taste, not to accommodate large numbers of travelers. Instead, there are only ten guest cabins on board; the passengers include a photographer, a model, journalists and prospective investors. In addition to the aforementioned passengers and staff, also on board are Lord Bullmer, his wife Anne – who is a sick woman who has been battling breast cancer; and Lo’s ex-boyfriend, Ben Howard. The Aurora is set to depart on its maiden voyage from a port in England, and is heading to Scandinavia for a tour of the Norwegian fjords.
Not wanting to risk losing her chance at covering a story that could turn out to be both professionally and financially rewarding, Lo boards the ship before it sets sail, even though things are far from right with her. Several days prior to the start of the assignment, her apartment was broken into by a man wearing latex gloves, whose face was covered by a bandana, although he didn’t harm Lo, she ends up being locked in her bedroom for several hours. The incident has left her emotionally distraught, causing her sleep, or lack thereof, to be erratic at best. Lo allows Ben to accompany her to her cabin, but due to her still fragile emotional state, when Ben places his hands on her in a manner that is a little too rough for her liking, she knees him in the groin. Afterwards, she confesses to Ben, that ever since the break-in, she feels paranoid. Making matters worse, she doesn’t know where she stands in regard to her relationship with her boyfriend, Judah; before leaving on her trip, she and Judah had some problems and when she left, their relationship was strained.
On her first evening at sea, Lo is in need of mascara. Thinking nothing of it, she knocks on the door of the cabin adjacent to her own. An attractive, young woman, with long dark hair, sporting a well-worn Pink Floyd t-shirt opens the door. Lo asks to borrow some mascara, and the woman gives it to her with little conversation before shutting the door. Not in the mood for networking, but knowing her livelihood depends on it, Lo attends the first night’s welcome reception, where she imbibes a lot, and eats little. Later that same evening, while just beginning to drift off into a much needed sleep, Lo is awakened by the sound of a splash, that was preceded by a scream. She hurriedly makes her way onto her cabin’s balcony, and in her inebriated state thinks she spots a woman’s body sinking into the icy depths of the ocean. Furthermore, she observes blood on the outside railing of the adjacent cabin. Lo is confronted with the sobering realization, that whoever might have pushed the woman into the water, more than likely saw her face when she rushed onto the balcony.
After alerting ship security, the adjacent cabin – cabin 10 – is inspected, which as it turns out, was supposed to be occupied by a male passenger, who couldn’t make the trip. Nilsson, the head of security, informs Lo that the cabin is empty. What is even more disturbing, is that he finds no blood on the railing, or anywhere inside the cabin. Nilsson, doubts the validity of Lo’s story, even more so after he learns from Ben Howard about the burglary in Lo’s apartment, and that Lo takes anti-depressants. Nilsson does, however, take every conceivable measure to assuage any concerns Lo has, including confirming that all of the passengers and staff are accounted for. Nilsson takes things a step further by allowing Lo to meet and speak with all female members of the staff; none of whom resemble the woman in cabin 10 who gave Lo the mascara.
Undaunted, Lo is determined to get to the bottom of what she feels is a mystery that involves murder. She not only wants to identify the victim, but reveal the identity of the killer. Unmasking the murderer will not be an easy task. The more Lo investigates, the deeper resistance she is met with, including receiving threatening messages, as well as the destruction and disappearance of the little tangible evidence she does manage to gather. The cruise ship’s claustrophobic setting, and isolation of being out at sea, helped to amplify the ever present danger Lo faces at any given moment, not knowing who she can trust. Ware further isolates her main protagonist by including e-mails and Facebook postings from Lo’s friends, mother, and boyfriend. These are strategically placed before each new portion of the story and only the reader is privy to them because, as the reader learns, Lo can’t get an internet connection on board the ship.
What happened to the woman in cabin 10? Is she a real person or a figment of Lo’s imagination? Could she be a creation of Lo’s mind brought to life from her fragile emotional state, coupled with her drinking too much alcohol while mixing it with her medication? Are there sinister forces at work? If there are, who is behind them, and why? The Woman in Cabin 10″ is an intelligent and well paced thriller, with a good plot, that kept me guessing until the end.