This is a locked-room mystery à la Agatha Christie (e.g. Murder on the Orient Express, And Then There Were None).
Lo Blacklock, a travel journalist, is given a dream assignment aboard a luxury cruise ship. She thinks she hears a body being thrown overboard from the cabin next door to hers, but there is no evidence of an occupant in that cabin, though she encountered a woman there earlier. Her reliability as a witness is called into question for a number of reasons so Lo investigates on her own.
I found the book was heavy-handed in a number of ways. First of all, Lo’s unreliability as a witness is emphasized so much: she is suffering trauma after a recent home burglary, she suffers from anxiety attacks, she is sleep deprived, and she drinks excessively. Her heart is always thumping (12 references), or pounding (7 references) or beating hard/fast (9 references). She vomits three times. And she never speaks in her own voice: “I wanted it to sound like a command, but it came out like a plea” and “I tried for a laugh, but it came out sounding fake and shaky” and “It came out harsher and louder than I meant” and “It came out like the growl of an animal – not quite human” and “I didn’t mean it to sound the way it came out” and “My voice came out cracked and hoarse” and “I didn’t mean to sound quite so curt” and “I said at last, in a voice that didn’t seem to be mine” and “my voice low and hard and totally unlike my own” and “there was a note in my voice that sounded like a whining little child”! At least three times, she screams and doesn’t recognize that she is the one doing it!
Lo is irritating, rude, and shallow. For instance, she makes observations like, “There was a little knot in the far corner who looked like they could survive for several weeks off their fat reserves, if we were ever shipwrecked” and describes people as “sleek and rotund as a walrus” or “whippet-thin and wearing jewelery weighing more than she did”. At least a dozen times she refers to doing something stupid and even makes comments like “I groaned, at my own stupidity . . . ” and “groaning with my own stupidity” and “Stupid, stupid Lo” and “Stupid, stupid, stupid” and “I should have thought of that” and “How could I not have thought of it?” – comments with which the reader can only agree.
There are some other things that had me shaking my head in disbelief. An adult would pack her copy of Winnie-the-Pooh every time she travels: “Pooh has always been my comfort read, my go-to book in times of stress”? A journalist reads so little that a children’s book is the only one that gives her comfort?
The book supposedly has “surprising twists” but I found none. The ending is certainly not a shock and in some ways lacks logic. The murderer at the end takes some actions that match Lo’s in terms of stupidity.
I read the author’s In a Dark, Dark Wood and was disappointed. I wish I hadn’t given her a second chance.