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Book review: Suspense novels promise to thrill

“The Paying Guests”
by Sarah Waters

“The Paying Guests” is a brilliant and compelling blend of Downton Abbey, passionate love story and bone chilling suspense. Sarah Waters’ accomplished fifth novel draws the reader into layers of deceit and dark secrets, impossible to put down.

The setting is 1922 in the aftermath of World War 1. Twenty-seven-year-old Frances Wray and her mother are left penniless and debt ridden when her father passes away shortly after losing both sons to the war.



Frances and her mother are forced to take in boarders to maintain their large house in a genteel section of London. Into their home come Mr. and Mrs. Barber, a young newly married, highly social couple whose lively presence creates a new atmosphere in the Wray’s reserved household.

At first, Frances is bothered by the disruptive presence of their new lodgers, politely referred to as “paying guests” but soon becomes friends with Mrs. Barber who is left home alone all day while Mr. Barber heads off to the office. Their relationship deepens, cumulating in a horrific crime.



What starts as an artful character study evolves into a suspenseful psychological narrative. The last 100 pages kept me in a vice-like grip. When I finished the last page, I finally let go of the breath I had been holding the entire book.

Waters has been short listed for the Man Booker Prize three times, has twice been a finalist for the Orange Prize and was named one of Granta’s best young British novelists.

“The Girl on the Train”
by Paula Hawkins

Every day, Rachel rides the same commuter train, and every day the train’s route takes her past the same set of houses, one of which she used to live in before her husband fell in love with another woman who quickly took her place.

A few doors down from her old house, Rachel often observes a young, attractive couple breakfasting on their deck and over time invents a perfect life for them as she sees a fleeting glimpse of them daily from the train window.

One day Rachel sees something disturbing from the train window and soon becomes obsessively entwined in what happens next involving her ex-husband, his new wife and the perfect couple that lives a few doors down.

“The Girl on the Train” is a compellingly suspenseful, twisty and dark novel. Not only has Rachel lost her husband but she is a drunk, trying to keep up appearances and obsessed with others’ lives as a means to deny her own miserable existence. The reader is left to ponder who is telling the truth and what their motives are.

Paula Hawkins does a brilliant job of creating characters that are simultaneously sympathetic and off-putting.

Comparisons to “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn are commonplace due to the intensity of the story line and the unreliability of the characters. Whether or not you have read/enjoyed Gillian Flynn’s blockbuster novel, “The Girl on the Train” is certain to keep you up late at night…way late.

Chris Painter is director of Bud Werner Memorial Library in Steamboat Springs.

This book is available at the Bud Werner Memorial Library and at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore; e-book can be found at http://www.steamboatbooks.com.


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