This has been compared again and again to Gone Girl, a book which, in my opinion, is cheesy as hell, but about as thrilling as it gets.
It is, however, no Gone Girl. The Girl On The Train (Paula Hawkins, 2015, 325 pages, Riverhead Books) starts with the same premise: nothing is what it seems, people are deceiving, a crime that gets weirder and weirder. Unlike Gone Girl, though, there isn’t a single charismatic bone in any of the character’s bodies: everyone is about as unlikable as it gets, including the main narrator, Rachel. People don’t even act like normal people, doing things just for the sake of the plot, making it difficult for the reader to truly immerse themselves into the story.
It also alternates chapters between characters, which is a great way to keep a thriller’s pacing frenetic, as we’ve been shown again and again by Dan Brown, for example. A technique that is basically incapable of not working in a crime book fails to work here, for the very simple reason that the author doesn’t understand that, in order for a reader to actually crave that narrator’s next chapter, you pretty much need a cliffhanger by the end of every single one. Just read any Brian K. Vaughan comic book and you’ll see how effective that can be.
And the ending, oh, the ending. You can see it coming from about a third into the book, which means everything that comes afterwards should be a balls to the walls collection of crazy events, something that Gone Girl does very effectively. Yet the same patterns are repeated, characters keep doing stupid things just so they can come back to bite them in the ass and deliver a dozen more pages, everyone involved is completely oblivious to basically everything you’ll have picked up a hundred pages before.
As if the predictability weren’t frustrating enough, by the time the book reaches its climax it goes on and on and on, repeating things again and again, in such an annoying way that it is an actual relief to get to the end of it. If the reader already knows who did it, you might as well give them something really crazy, thrilling and unexpected to hang on to later. The comparison keeps showing up, but isn’t that what Gone Girl does most effectively?
Of course, it still is good enough to keep you going until the end. But let’s face it: if you have limited hours of reading in your life, you should probably be spending them on something that is better than a “good enough” book.