One of the things I miss from my East Coast childhood is riding commuter trains.
There is something about the feeling of time being suspended as you lean against the window and watch the world flow past: houses, schools, playgrounds, rivers, cars and those glimpses of people passing ordinary days. After reading this British thriller, I will never look at trains the same way again.
A young woman, Rachel, just past the bloom of youth, rides trains into London every weekday: the 8:04 a.m. into town and the 5:56 p.m. return. Every evening she drinks too much—small bottles of wine or canned mixed drinks.
One particular neighborhood--where the train slows for a crossing--captures Rachel’s complete attention. In one of the backyards she often spots a young glamorous couple, whom she doesn’t know at all, but she names them Justin and Jess. She often sees Justin coming out to the garden with a mug of coffee or tea for his wife, and they exchange endearments.
Rachel even invents careers for them, a private life. Jess works in the arts, and Justin does something with computers. Meanwhile, Rachel’s career and married life have taken a horrible slide.
Her husband, Tom, left her for another woman, Anna. He’s not only left her but then had a child with Anna after Rachel tried and failed for years to have a family with him. To make matters even worse, Tom and Anna live in the same house, Rachel shared with Tom. Guess where it’s located? Yes, just off the railroad tracks, a few yards down from that of the fabled couple, Justin and Jess.
Even though Rachel has no reason to ride the train every day she continues. Now she goes to the library and works on her CV. But her drinking gets worse and worse. She calls, texts, and emails her ex constantly, driving Anna crazy. Her landlady throws her out of the apartment after she has left a major mess once too often.
Then one morning, a different man joins Jess in the garden. At first Rachel thinks: a brother, a cousin, her husband’s friend. But no, he kisses Jess tenderly as the train slows at its normal spot.
Soon someone is murdered in one of the houses just off the tracks. The problem: Rachel got off the train that night and wandered through the train tunnel. She was soused and cannot piece together what happened. So many details were lost to the fog of alcohol. Also, someone hurt her that night. But whom?
This riveting book will keep you turning the pages. My advice: don’t start it on a week night unless you have an open calendar the next day. The characters, the story, the unexpected twists, will keep you guessing and enthralled.