After a terrifying home invasion, Laura “Lo” Blacklock is plagued by a desperate need to reclaim what has been violated. The burglary has also caused Lo to forget about her upcoming assignment on the
Aurora, a boutique super-luxury cruise liner that is traveling around the Norwegian fjords. A journalist for
a popular London travel magazine, Lo has been lucky enough to snag one of the handful of press passes on the ship’s maiden voyage. The trip is an unmissable and unrepeatable opportunity to prove herself and to network and schmooze with the high-fliers, especially wealthy Richard Bullmer, the owner of the ship: “The cruise had landed in my lap like a big present fraught with responsibilities and possibilities.”
Lo is stricken with visions: her handsome American boyfriend, Judah; the unwanted images of a naked, bloated woman floating in the ocean; and Lo herself, cowering in her own bedroom, hiding from the sight of strong hands encased in pale latex. Paranoid, scared, and unbalanced, Lo vows to get herself together and get onboard the ship. At first Lo is gobsmacked at
Aurora’s luxury, from the pampered passengers, to the library, spa sauna, and its cocktail lounge, to the polished marble stairway illuminated by an eye-watering chandelier, and to the bright, white-blond stewardesses who mysteriously slink into the shadows only to reappear again, holding a glass of champagne.
A familiar face is Lo’s ex-boyfriend, Ben Howard, a hard-selling travel journalist who introduces Lo to
other passengers: Archer and Chloe and Cole Lederer, and Tina, a rival reporter.
As Aurora’s maiden voyage gets underway, Lo begins to feel a twinge of reluctance,
thelling Ben that she can’t cope. Harboring a tendency to self-medicate on pills and booze, Lo confides to Ben about the home invasion and
her inability to escape from the a flash of a face and “gleaming liquid eyes” that plague her in the darkness.
Uncompromising and relentless, Ware's embattled protagonist plunges headlong into chaos. Earlier in the evening, just before Bullmer’s party celebrating the arrival of his guests, Lo
borrows some mascara from the girl in cabin 10. Later that evening, back in her own cabin, Lo thinks she hears a scream that barely registers above the slap of the engine. Then there is a splash, perhaps made by a body hitting the water. The dark waves are slick in the moonlight and the blood rings in Lo’s ears while her angry heart beats in staccato. Lo is positive she’s just witnessed a murder in which a woman’s body
has been dumped into the deep black darkness of the North Sea.
Lo feels like an indelible part of the mystery connected to the woman in cabin 10. She tries to get things straight in her head, to piece it all together from her
broken dreams and half-drunken recollections. At first she tells Nilsson, Aurora’s security guard, that she heard someone being thrown overboard, but he’s reluctant to take her seriously. Suddenly Lo is unsure of what she’s actually heard and seen, admitting to Ben that she’s not the most reliable of witnesses. From the dinginess of the cramped quarters of the crews’ cabins to her constant clammy nausea, Lo begins to see “the pieces of the puzzle in front of her, jolting her out of her stupor.” She’s positive that she
did not imagine the mascara and the blood, nor the face of the woman in cabin 10 who appeared at the door wearing a Pink Floyd T-shirt.
More fully fleshing this novel out than her first, Ware has considerably honed her writing skills, constructing The Woman in Cabin 10 with the precision of a finely skilled surgeon. Utilizing a narrative arc that grabs hold of us and never lets go, Ware embeds us deep into Lo’s battered psyche. What secrets is the
Aurora keeping from Lo? What really happened that night to the woman in cabin 10? With Lo actually believing she's witnessed a murder, paranoia soon sets in.
She begins to suspect everyone, both the cabin crew and her fellow guests. Is she going mad, or is this really some criminal act enhanced by the nightmare of the beautiful boat “with its coffin like cell far beneath the waves.” Regardless of her predictable plot, Ware totally captures Lo’s intrinsic mistrust of those around her as well as the inherent claustrophobia of those sailing on the
Aurora, the expected echoes of Nilsson’s distress, and the almost clannish denial of the crew, who deny
having ever seen the mysterious woman with the long dark hair.
Toward the end, the novel disintegrates into cliché, yet reading the book is always exciting as Lo finds herself trapped and scared, fighting for her life. With Lo finally forced to confront the dark secrets held deep within the
Aurora, Ware delivers not only on Lo’s personal trials--including her struggle with chemical addiction--but also on how Lo inadvertently finds herself swept up and out into the suffocating orbit of a killer.