Our 'King of Crime' Simon McDonald reviews A.J. Finn's New York Times bestseller The Woman in the Window.
With The Woman in the Window, A.J. Finn has concocted a Hitchcockian brand of domestic noir whose pacing forces us to reexamine our casual use of the word compulsive. Finn has put the rest of the thriller-writing world on notice: he’s going to be around for a while.
It has been ten months since the title character, Anna Fox, last left her home. She lives alone in an expensive family home in uptown Manhattan, whiling away the hours by gazing through her window, spying on her neighbours, watching old black-and-white movies, playing chess, and chatting on an online forum. A glass of merlot is usually never too far from her hand as she goes about these pursuits. In fact, drinking wine should really be considered an activity of its own; so, too, her casual pill-popping of her many prescribed drugs.
Anna is not a recluse by choice. She is agoraphobic — a ruthless anxiety disorder — as a result of a traumatic event in her not-too-distant past. As a child psychologist, she recognises her symptoms, knows how debilitating they are; but she is powerless to overcome her own personal psychosis. Her heavy consumption of alcohol inoculates Anna from dealing with her reality; separated from her husband and daughter, a ghost anchored in the land of the living.
Her sedate daily routine is interrupted when the Russell family move in next door: Paul and Jane, and their son Ethan. Anna forms an immediate and unlikely comradeship with the teenage boy, who seems like he needs a friend as he exposes his father’s violent tendencies. Jane, who also visits, is more obscure in her observations of Paul, but Anna still gets the sense this is a family on tenterhooks. Her worst fears are confirmed when, through her binoculars, she witnesses what she perceives to be an act of violence. The police’s investigation is perfunctory at best, Anna the very definition of an unreliable witness; so she continues to gaze upon the Russell house, desperate to prove what she saw while imprisoned in her own home.
The Woman in the Window literally interrupted my professional and personal life. Once in, I simply had to stay in, and stick with it to the end. Finn’s debut is a supercharged domestic noir in the tradition of Paula Hawkin’s The Girl on the Train, Renee Knight’s Disclaimer and, of course, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. The elegant prose and its blistering pace keep the heart of the novel beating even when some revelations prove predictable. The book never strays too far from convention, but its pedal-to-the-floor narrative drive propels it above and beyond its kin. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.