01 January 2018

The Woman in the Window--Does It Live Up to the Hype?

“Astounding. Thrilling.” 
“Tour de force.” 

When a pre-publication novel boasts these blurbs from Gillian Flynn, Ruth Ware, Louise Penny, and Stephen King, and is pronounced “The Most Widely Acquired Debut Novel of all Time,” my alarms go off.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a skeptic where the publishing world is concerned. Their taste buds tend to salivate over sales—no matter how well written or crafted the novel. Plus their authors often write testimonials for their publishers’ novels because, well, it’s done that way. I’ll scratch your back, etc. etc.

So call me a cynic when, in October, I stumbled across an online mention of The Woman in the Window, the 432-page novel referred to at the start of this review, published by William Morrow. Ruth Ware called it “A dark, twisty confection with an irresistible film noir premise.” Lately, some novels are described as noir, when in fact they are not. So is it noir? Is it worth the hype and read? And exactly who is this wunderkind author A. J. Finn?

Turns out he’s industry insider Daniel Mallory, a senior publishing executive at William Morrow/Harper Collins. In the novel’s promo packet I found this about him:

(Daniel Mallory is) a top young book editor who studied mystery and suspense fiction at Oxford University, who now publishes the work of Agatha Christie, and whose own writing is crafted in homage to the classics from Hitchcock and Highsmith.

Now I was even more intrigued, and the pressure increases for this novel to perform.

Does it?


Is it noir?

Yes … and no, depending on how you define noir.

As a psychological thriller, it’s gripping. The narrator, Anna Fox, an agoraphobic and once a respected child psychologist, drinks too much merlot and pops pills indiscriminately. She spies on her neighbors and becomes increasingly interested in the new ones across the street. When she witnesses a brutal crime, no one believes her. No evidence is found that a crime has been committed, a noir hook that comes directly from Rear Window with James Stewart. We wonder about Anna’s sanity.

The British cover
The novel is alive with Hitchcockian characters: the sympathetic Detective Little, his sidekick who doesn’t like Anna, the new neighbor who Anna suspects of killing his wife, the neighbor’s son who makes friends with Anna, Anna’s tenant who suspiciously has little history, and an online friend Anna confides in. The characters switch from suspects to victims and back to suspects repeatedly, creating the plot twists. A definite noir trope.

Finn chose wisely with confining the point of view to Anna. He also restricted the setting to Anna’s New York brownstone, therefore enhancing the sense of entrapment, isolation, and paranoia, all elements of noir.

The ending, of course, brings the truth about the crime to a close. Usually, however, noir does not end on an uplifting note, or it leaves us with a slight sense of dread that not all is right with the world. Finn decides on a different ending.

As much as I love film noir, I found the mention of so many films
throughout the novel distracting even though we're led to believe Anna’s constant viewing of these movies could cause her paranoia. Night in the City, Vertigo, Third Man, Dead Calm, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Rope, Strangers on a Train, North by Northwest, The Lady Vanishes, Gaslight, Dark Passage—all mentioned in the first 144 pages.

I applaud Finn’s nod to Gaslight with its use of madness, Vertigo for mistaken identity, and Shadow of a Doubt for its sense of urgency. After the novel took off, I quit counting the mentioned films as I became more interested in Anna’s fate and the person responsible for the crime.

As for the writing itself, noir benefits with less. Most of the descriptions were spot on, but sometimes Finn tries too hard:

Sounds invade the car: The giddy shriek, the seafloor rumble of traffic, a bicycle bell trilling. A rage of colors, a riot of sounds. I feel as though I'm in a coral reef. 
Her drainpipe legs are folded beneath the seat, and Punch (her cat) churns around her ankles like smoke. In the grate, a low tide of fire.

As for the story overall, The Woman in the Window is more quietly complex and suspenseful than Gone Girl (enjoyed, with reservations). It far exceeds The Girl on the Train which I didn't like at all. Finn takes care with the clues he sprinkles throughout (even the red herrings), the setting, and the way he tries to summon up the moody atmosphere of black-and-white films. 

The Woman in the Window goes on sale Jan. 2, 2018 in a massive launch and has already been sold to Fox 2000 Studios with 
Scott Rudin producing and Tracy Letts writing the script.

I hope A. J. Finn continues to write in the noir and thriller genre. I’m a fan.
Loving the dark,

A. J. Finn's Facebook Page