The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins © 2014 Doubleday

Rachel is an alcoholic who rides the train into London and back every day rather than admit to her landlady she lost her job for showing up drunk. Rachel drinks while she rides the train, which passes her old neighborhood, causing her to pine for the ex-husband who dumped her for another woman, and leading her to invent life stories for another couple she observes on her former block. Rachel is shocked one day to see the woman of her “invented” couple in the back yard kissing another man. After a particularly hard-drinking night, Rachel discovers in the newspaper her “invented” woman is missing.

Rachel decides to get involved in the investigation, but her information about the “other man” is a dead end, and the police label her a drunken rubbernecker. Rachel keeps at it, though, sticking her nose into the life of the bereaved missing woman’s husband, and at the same time continuing to pester the ex-husband she can’t let go of. Rachel’s a pain in the ass.

The story acquires two other voices, the missing woman, Megan (she is found, dead), and Rachel’s ex’s new wife, Anna, who have intertwining backstories. Rachel gradually pieces together events of the hard-drinking night she can’t remember and thereby finds clues to Megan’s murder. Knowing the police would laugh at her recovered drunken memories, Rachel turns to the only character who might believe her and who also hates her guts. In the end, the killer gets his or her due.

If you stick with it, the characters eventually redeem their initial selfish, manipulative first impressions. You find out why they are the way they are. Rachel becomes sympathetic by trying to overcome her alcoholism and by realizing some of her past drunken transgressions were not what she believed them to be.

I pretty much knew who the killer was from the get-go, but Girl on the Train was still a fun, amateur-sleuth mystery. It was better than Gone Girl, because Rachel’s blackout drinking at least provided a reason for hiding the clues from the reader. Hawkins’ book takes a sidetrack to my keepers shelf.


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