Plenty to keep readers guessing in terrific debut

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Mike Crowl reviews The Woman In The Window, by A.J. Finn. Published by HarperCollins.

The publishers’ advertising states: "The most widely acquired debut novel of all time", and continues, "soon to be a major motion picture".

Stephen King lays on the praise and there is more of the same from a variety of other thriller writers.

If you’re not already impressed, you should be.

Being a cynic, my initial reaction was that this book was being over puffed-up, and that I was going to be bored and annoyed by about page 20.

More than 400 pages and 100 chapters later, I was left overwhelmed by the confidence in the writing and the nicely woven plot, by the connections to old movies (frequently, but not solely, Hitchcock titles), and by the stylish and witty way the story was told.

Not that this is an amusing piece as such.

Anna Fox, a child psychologist suffering agoraphobia and depression after a traumatic experience, lives alone in a four-storey house she has not left in months.

She takes medications at random and washes them down with New Zealand merlots — lots of them.

Anna had lived in the house with her husband and daughter until the separation, yet she appears to be on good terms with them and is in frequent contact with the pair.

She spends most of her day watching old movies, chatting with other agoraphobia sufferers on the internet and photographing her neighbours with a camera equipped with a high-powered zoom lens.

She should be an unpleasant character, but a great deal of her thoughts, and her conversations with others, are funny, and she is endearing to the reader.

Then Anna sees something horrific happen at the new neighbour’s house.

Or does she?

Were other things she did and saw figments of her imagination, hallucinations?

The police seem to think so, and the neighbours confirm it.

How can she believe her own thoughts when she’s drugged on medications and alcohol?

The tiniest of clues scattered through the complex story give her hope that she’s not imagining things.

But how is she to prove the truth with almost no evidence to go on?

The links to Hitchcock’s Rear Window are acknowledged by her and the author — how can they not be?

Her eventual discovery of the truth leads to a terrific climax.

You may guess one or two of the mysteries in this book, but there are more than enough red herrings to keep any reader on their toes.

My cynicism was completely overcome. This is a terrific book.

- Mike Crowl is a Dunedin author, musician and composer.


The Weekend Mix has five copies of The Woman in the Window, by A.J. Finn, courtesy of HarperCollins, to give away. For your chance to win a copy, email with your name and postal address in the body of the email and ‘‘Woman in the Window’’ in the subject line, by 5pm on Tuesday, February 13.

Winners of last week’s draw, for The Journal of Urgent Writing, edited by Simon Wilson, courtesy of Massey University Press, are: Bronwen Crawford, Sue Humphreys and Lisa Kun, of Dunedin, Chris Mitchell, of Mosgiel, and Doreen O’Sullivan, of Timaru.

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