This book has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.
Rachel Watson has lost her husband, her home and now, her job. Even so, she rides the commuter train to London every day. The train stops at a station that overlooks her old home, where her ex-husband Tom now lives with his wife, Anna, and the daughter he and Anna had together. Rachel couldn’t have children, which she believes started the downward spiral in their marriage. She started drinking, and Tom would always tell her the next day about the horrible things she’d done while drunk. Every day, Rachel sees a couple at the house a few doors down from Tom’s. They look happy and in love. She nicknames them Jess and Jason and always enjoys catching a glimpse of them in their seemingly perfect life.
Rachel is now an alcoholic. Sometimes, after too much alcohol, she calls Tom late at night. Once, she even went to his house and picked up the baby while Anna was napping. Tom and Anna demand that she stop harassing them.
The story switches perspectives often, and readers also get Megan’s story. Megan (known to Rachel as “Jess”) is depressed and restless after her gallery closes down. She’s a person who longs for highs in her life and can’t bear the current boredom. Her husband, Scott, works in the technology industry and worries about her. For a short time, Megan works as a nanny for Tom and Anna. Megan decides to go to counseling and begins having an affair with her therapist, Kamal. They talk about running away together.
During one of her train rides, Rachel sees Megan kissing another man on the balcony. She is furious at Megan for throwing everything away with her clearly wonderful husband. Rachel has a particularly bad night of drinking and decides she needs to talk to Tom in person. She takes the train to their stop, but she remembers nothing of the evening’s events when she wakes the next morning. A detective named Gaskill comes to question her. She learns Megan is missing. He also says Tom and Anna reported that Rachel was in the area last night and came to their door, drunk.
Rachel becomes obsessed with the case of Megan’s disappearance. She decides she has to tell Gaskill about having seen Megan with another man. She also emails Scott, who is under suspicion in the disappearance of his wife. When Scott and Rachel meet, Rachel lies and tells him she was a friend of Megan’s. Then she tells him about seeing Megan kissing Kamal, hoping this information will help his case. Scott reports this to the police, and Kamal is questioned and released. Scott continues to call Rachel afterward, hoping she can provide more answers or simply be near because she was someone who knew Megan.
Days and weeks pass with no sign of Megan. Rachel tries to sort out what she may have said, done or seen the night Megan vanished. She even starts visiting Kamal for therapy, giving him no indication she knows anything about the murder case. She hopes to get him to confess something about Megan that she can share with Scott. She also asks him if there are ways to retrieve memories one has lost while in a drunken state.
After heavy rains, Megan’s buried body is unearthed. An autopsy reveals she was pregnant. The papers also publish a rumor that Megan killed her own child at some point in the past. One of Megan’s narratives from an earlier date confirms this was true. She was living with a much older man named Mac, doing lots of drugs, when she had his child. She fell asleep in the tub while holding the baby, and the child drowned. Mac left, and she never saw him again. Other narratives reveal that Kamal ended the affair with Megan, knowing it was unprofessional and wrong. She tried to get him back, but ultimately allowed him to be a friend and confidante. She told him about the baby’s death.
The weaving story continues with Rachel’s and Anna’s present-day reflections and Megan’s thoughts leading up to her death. Anna, who had an affair with Tom while he was married to Rachel, is smug about her current life with him and their baby. But as she finds out about little lies he’s told, she starts to wonder if she can trust him. Then she finds a throw-away phone in Tom’s gym bag that belonged to Megan.
When Scott learns Rachel didn’t really know Megan as she’d said, he beats her and locks her in a room at his house for a short time. Megan’s narrative talks about her affair with Tom and how angry she became when he tried to end it. When she discovered she was pregnant, she decided to come clean with everyone. She told Scott about the affair, but he became abusive before she could let him know about the baby. She left and told Tom she had to meet him. When they took a drive together, she told him about the baby and revealed that it might be his.
Rachel’s memories of the night Megan disappeared slowly begin to return. She realizes she was down by the railroad tracks when Tom hit and bloodied her. Then she saw him get into a car with Megan. Rachel knows she has to help Anna get away from Tom. She goes to their home while Tom is out. Anna, who has long hated Rachel, wants to be angry. But having found the cell phone in Tom’s bag, she knows about the affair. She begins to realize the things Rachel says about Tom’s many deceptions are true.
Tom returns home to find his wife and ex-wife talking to each other. He admits everything, including the fact that he killed Megan when she told him about the baby. He then begins beating and dragging Rachel around the house, as well as verbally abusing her. Anna tries to keep her baby safe and calm Tom down. She manages to call the police, and Rachel grabs a corkscrew from the drawer behind her. She stabs him with it. While the story on record with the police shows Anna tried to save him, Rachel knows the truth: Anna twisted the corkscrew in further to finish the job. By the time the police arrive, Tom is dead.
Rachel starts the long road to recovery from alcoholism. She moves north, unsure where to settle yet because she still fears the shadows and is haunted by memories.
Rachel says she thinks it might be nice to be Catholic so she could go to confession and unburden herself.
The book briefly mentions Kamal is Muslim.
The Lord’s name is used in vain often and in several forms. Swear words including the f-word, s—, p—, b–ch, h—, b–tard, *whore and arse appear frequently.
When characters talk about abortions or advocate for them, they use phrases like get rid of and scrape out.
Scott batters both Rachel and Megan at different times. Tom also beats up on Rachel at the home he shares with Anna. Rachel realizes he probably did this when they were married but lied and blamed her for hurting herself when she was in her drunken state. Tom hits Megan in the head with a rock and then realizes he has to finish the job. He kills her and buries the body. Choking, strangling, slapping, dragging, stabbing, throwing people around forcefully and other violent actions are depicted.
Sex between unmarried people is common. Megan has affairs with Kamal and Tom. Tom has an affair with Anna while married to Rachel and one with Megan while married to Anna. Anna says being the other woman is a huge turn-on. Another woman and her boyfriend stay overnight at each other’s houses regularly. Rachel mentions reading about an alcoholic woman who gave oral sex to two men she’d just met.
Megan says it doesn’t matter if she’s not thinking about her husband when she’s having sex with him because she’s a good-enough actress to convince him it’s all about him. After Rachel learns she can’t get pregnant, she can hardly stand the sight of a co-worker who reveals she’s had two abortions. Megan contemplates abortion when she finds out she’s pregnant with Mac’s child.
Tom demands Megan get an abortion when she tells him she’s pregnant with a child that could be his. Rachel’s mother tells Rachel it’s not a good time for her to come stay because she (Mom) has a new male friend. Rachel sleeps with Scott once. Tom begins to get an erection as he’s pressed up against Rachel, threatening her.
Alcohol/Drugs: Rachel is an alcoholic. She blacks out the night Megan goes missing and can’t remember what she did or whom she saw. Other characters also drink frequently. Megan often did drugs with an old boyfriend.
Emotional abuse: Tom appears to be a normal family man, but the conclusion reveals that he has lied about his parents and many other aspects of his past. Tom always blamed Rachel for doing horrible things while she was drunk. She realizes in hindsight that her bruises, holes in the wall, etc., were not her doing, but his. He mocks her as he batters her at the home he shares with Anna. He also tells Megan to get rid of the baby because she’d be a terrible mother. These are just a few examples of his attempts to manipulate his wives and lovers.
Other: Most of the characters are desperate people addicted to thrills and highs. They experience depression or boredom with everyday life. They drink, do drugs, lie, have affairs and revel in the excitement and sexual tension that come from doing something they know is wrong.
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