Lo Blacklock, a journalist who writes for a travel magazine, has just been given the assignment of a lifetime: a week on a luxury cruise with only a handful of cabins. The sky is clear, the waters calm, and the veneered, select guests jovial as the exclusive cruise ship, the Aurora, begins her voyage in the picturesque North Sea. At first, Lo’s stay is nothing but pleasant: the cabins are plush, the dinner parties are sparkling, and the guests are elegant. But as the week wears on, frigid winds whip the deck, gray skies fall, and Lo witnesses what she can only describe as a dark and terrifying nightmare: a woman being thrown overboard. The problem? All passengers remain accounted for—and so, the ship sails on as if nothing has happened, despite Lo’s desperate attempts to convey that something (or someone) has gone terribly, terribly wrong…
Travel writer Laura "Lo" Blacklock is struggling with overwhelming anxiety since a strange man broke into her apartment and assaulted her. When her boss is hospitalized, an opportunity arises for Lo to fill in for her on a travel assignment aboard the "luxury cruise liner" Aurora. Lo is to be a passenger on the ship's maiden voyage and write of the experience, the accommodations, and the finale event involving a viewing of the Northern Lights while exploring the Norwegian fjords.
It takes 5 chapters for Lo to even get anywhere near a dock, let alone ON the boat. Once on the boat, the reader is made to suffer through pages of boring dinner conversation that we really didn't need to be there for. The way the characters interact with each other in this novel brought to mind low-budget murder mystery dinner theater. Once that fizzles out, we go back with Lo to her cabin, where she drinks, mopes about her life, and passes out. She starts up in the middle of the night, nerves on edge. Unable to get back to sleep, she tries to read. From there, we are asked to believe that Lo was able to hear a sound described as "the scrape of paper against paper" over the hum of the ship's engine AND the roll of ocean waves. Lo looks up, sees a body go overboard. Once she reports what she saw, the novel turns into an actual whodunit, though it poses the question of whether an actual death occurred or are we dealing with the hallucinations of someone who chose to mix alcohol with antidepressants? (One line that gave me an honest LOL moment: Lo casually saying "I really need to stop drinking mid-week." Not sure why that tickled me so much, but it did!). Who knew so much would ride on one little pink and green tube of Maybelline Great Lash!
The book is divided into eight parts, the end of each part offering a snippet of text messages, emails, social media posts, or newspaper articles, all indicating a break in communication somewhere. Gradually hints pile up that while Lo is on this trip, her communications are not reaching friends and family (and neither are theirs to her), leading them to believe she's gone MIA.
What a confusing mess this book turned out to be! It started out promising enough, but not enough time was spent on relevant character or plot development, too much placed on forgettable minutiae. I'm still a little confused as to what kind of boat the Aurora is supposed to be? It's first described as "a boutique super luxury cruise liner" with ten cabins ... okay, but what is that... like a yacht? Later in the book it says the Aurora is "more like a large yacht than a small cruise liner" WTH IS THE DIFFERENCE? Pardon me, I'm not in the boat world lol.
Though this was marketed as one of the must-read thrillers of its publication year, I felt no thrills, chills, suspense, nothing while reading this. Not a one. Flatline. There's a few little interesting revelations in the end, but even there, there is much that relies on already established techniques / ideas within this genre.
Lastly, let's talk about Lo. Lo was just too much. You want to give her credit in the beginning because she just went through a trauma, but man is she just all-around unlikeable. Though she seems to have a pretty low perception of herself, simultaneously she can also be wildly self absorbed. And WHINY. OMG, so whiny! Then she'll feel bad, so then comes the flood of apologetic behavior... followed by bursts of lashing out later. Then the cycle resets. Exhausting!
As a journalist, she's lazy as all get-out. She even tells the reader herself, “For a travel journalist I’m worryingly bad at geography.” You know, that could be easily remedied if you gave a damn. Nope, instead we get her posing questions regarding this suspected murder to cruise guests and crew, only to follow up -- when they ask "why do you ask?" -- with a "doesn't matter". You get 'em, Poirot.
And is EVERY MAN in this story an enemy to Lo?! Those breathing exercises she keeps attempting clearly aren't doing much for her. I've suffered assaults worse that what happens to Lo here and even I'm able to very easily interact with the opposite sex on a daily basis without assuming every single one of them is a shady mofo out to ruin me. You don't condemn the entire group for the dishonorable actions of a despicable few!
My favorite part of this entire book was the raised texture on the watery cover! Fun trick I found, if you run your fingertips across it, it actually does kinda make a sound similar to the ocean! Reading experience saved! (You're welcome.)