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Hawkins, Paula - 'The Girl on the Train'
Hardback: 320 pages (Jan. 2015) Publisher: Doubleday ISBN: 0857522310

This is the first thriller from Paula Hawkins, and a very good one it is too. The story is told through the eyes of several participants. First there is Rachel, who travels to London on a commuter train, from Ashbury into Euston. At a particular point on the journey, near Witney, where the train is often delayed, she watches the backs of the Victorian houses from her window seat, to glimpse just a small part of the lives of some of the occupants, twice a day, as she goes past. There is a particular house, number 15, that is her favourite. A house she seems to know by heart somehow. And she has names for the two occupants that she sometimes sees sitting outside on their makeshift terrace: Jason and Jess. But there is another house close by which she can't watch. It's number 23 Blenheim Road, a house she used to live in for five years, with her ex-husband Tom. Tom now lives with Anna, and they have a baby. Rachel is now divorced from Tom, lives with an old girlfriend from University days, can't move on with her life, and has a serious drink problem. A second character is Megan, who lives with Scott, has acted as a childminder for Anna and Tom, and until recently worked in an art gallery. And finally, we also find out about part of the story from Anna, Tom's new wife, who mainly looks after Tom and her young baby Evie.

The story really takes off when Rachel sees a strange man with 'Jess' from her window seat on the train one Friday. What's worse is that they seem to be engaging in an amorous embrace. Rachel is shocked. Her perfect couple is suddenly not so perfect. Rachel still dreams about what she thought was her own perfect existence with Tom, before Anna appeared, and took it all away. Is the same fate about to meet Jason and Jess? On the Saturday, she decides to go and 'visit' Jason in Witney. Not actually to meet him, but just to walk by his house. But on the Sunday morning afterwards, not only does she wake up with a bad hangover, and little memory of what happened, she finds a large painful lump in her scalp, and her hair matted with blood. Shortly afterwards she discovers that 'Jess' has disappeared, and that she went missing on the same night that she visited Witney. The stage is set for everything to change.

This is a psychological thriller, driven by Rachel's viewpoint of events, with help from the other two main characters. Rachel is struggling to grapple with her own reality, the effects of her break-up with Tom, and her inability to move on with her own life. Something has happened to Rachel to affect her so strongly, and it is only as the story develops that we start to see hints of what that might be. The descriptions of Rachel's thoughts, her interactions with Tom, and others, as she struggles to make a positive change, are convincing and well written. Having once been a London commuter myself, there is something familiar about seeing the backs of London houses, and wondering about the lives of the people within them. Here the idea of a seemingly perfect existence, only glimpsed through a window twice a day, is quickly dismantled, as we discover what lies beneath. An excellent first book that I very much enjoyed.

Michelle Peckham, England
January 2015

More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 10/01/2015 11:30