This column was published in the Chapel Hill Herald on March 7, 2015
The recent snow and ice shut everything down, except my mind. I kept that active with two engrossing new mysteries.
Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train (Penguin Audio, approx. 11 hours; read by Clare Corbett, Louise Brealey and India Fisher)
The main character, Rachel, has lost her job, her marriage, and then because of drinking blackouts, begins to lose her memory. To keep up pretenses, she takes the train into London daily, viewing en route the home of her ex-husband, his wife Anna, and their small child. She also imagines the lives of their neighbors, Scott and Megan. But one night something happens, something that leaves her bloody and bruised. When Megan goes missing, Rachel knows there is a connection and is tortured trying to remember what happened.
At the start it’s a bit confusing to distinguish the voices of the three narrators — but each subtly contributes a credible character and together they build a taut story. Rachel is morose about her divorce and confused because of her alcoholic blurriness. This worsens her ability to think and becomes more frustrating as she dedicates herself to solving the mystery of what happened to Megan. Megan appears nervous and listeners assume at first that this is because of her hidden past. Her intensifying emotions gradually reveal how much she has to fear in her present. Anna’s expressions are secure as if she is living a perfect life. But by story’s end, her sorrowful tone represents tragic turns as well. The heroines experiences and emotional journeys are as intriguing as the mystery.
Tami Hoag,Cold Cold Heart (Brilliance, 12 hrs and 25 mins, read by Julia Whelan)
There’s a brutal entry in this mystery, as listeners hear the horrors to which serial killer Doc Holiday is subjecting Dana Nolan. Dana is a mess, literally and figuratively, but finally she escapes and kills the man who “carved her face like a pumpkin.” Julia Whelan perfectly expresses Dana’s initial confusion as she floats in the passive fog resulting from her trauma. Whelan shows Dana just as plausibly when she’s more healed and frustrated at having to live at home, struggling to find the simplest words. “Where are my feet” she repeats again and again, her mother only understanding when she describes them as “the things that go on my feet.”
Being at home means Dana is thrust into a past she barely remembers and is rife with free-floating feelings — distrust of her stepfather, suspicion that her father’s long ago death may have been a murder and worst, plagued by guilt for her best friend who went missing years before. Whelan also depicts a strength that makes listeners care about Dana’s recovery and adaptation. Whelan’s minor characters are also convincing — Dana’s mother is a mix of despair and hovering love, a hardboiled detective who’s dying of cancer is tough on Dana, her old boyfriend cares maybe a bit too tenderly, and Dana wonders about a hardluck friend who has suffered head trauma. Any of them might be criminals and with Whelan’s narrative tension, this mystery keeps one guessing until the end.