Twisty thrillers are easy to read, but they sure ain’t easy to write well—and when a debut thriller is the subject of serious buzz, with publishers competing fiercely for the chance to release it and discussions of who’s going to star in the film version long before the book has even hit the presses, the challenge is even greater, as readers come primed for shocking surprises and big reveals.
That’s the precise scenario A.J. Finn’s debut, The Woman in the Window, finds itself in. The dark, twisty story of an agoraphobe who spies on her neighborhood, Rear Window-style, succeeds in fooling even the most expectant reader. In fact, it just might be the most surprising, crowd-pleasing thriller since Gone Girl. Here’s why.
Anna Fox is a dedicated fan of old movies—especially thrillers and noir suspense tales. She’s also very self-consciously in the same position as Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window: compromised by an affliction—in her case, a severe case of agoraphobia—she spends much of her time sitting at the window that overlooks the park behind her house, using a camera lens to zoom in on her neighbors and watch their lives unfold.
Finn smartly puts a button on this theme—Anna references old movies constantly, and dialogue from them shows up as background noise in key scenes, adding a dash of postmodern meta-fiction to a classic thriller setup: after she spies a new family’s arrival on the block (and does some light cyberstalking to learn they are the Russells: Alistair, Jane, and son Ethan), Anna answers her doorbell and meets Jane, who is friendly, cheerful, and vivacious. Later, as Anna drunkenly spies on the trio through their window, she witnesses a shocking crime…or does she?
The Unreliable Narrator
Anna calls the police in the midst of an agoraphobic panic attack so powerful she wakes in the hospital, and we begin to learn the depth of Anna’s problems. She drinks far too much, endlessly downing Merlot. She’s sloppy with the many medications she’s been prescribed by her full-time therapist—psychotropics with serious side-effects, including hallucinations.
This all sounds crazy, and Finn allows Anna be perfectly aware of her own unreliable status. The Russells bitterly accuse her of stalking, and indeed, Anna’s behavior takes on the scent of the unhinged. As she continues to self-medicate with alcohol and poorly-managed prescriptions, her credibility is steadily destroyed, leading to a truly devastating and emotional reveal you won’t see coming, which convinces even Anna that she might be imagining things.
And that’s when the book’s hair-raising end game begins. It’s impossible to discuss the final act without spoiling it; needless to say, it piles on the reveals and reversals with dizzying speed. Finn handles this delirious series of plot turns so skillfully it’s hard to believe this is his debut. There are at least three moments the book could have ended on a satisfying note—only for Finn to throw in another swerve, with almost breathless glee.
This is one of those thrillers that was born to be a film. The suffocating sense of tension, the meticulously explored, confined setting, the impressive control over plot and reveal—someday very soon The Woman in the Window will be hitting the big screen, and you’ll want to be in the know before it does. This is a crackling thriller that’ll have you gasping out loud. Pour yourself a glass of a good Merlot (skip the pills, though) and settle in for an all-nighter.
The Woman in the Window is on B&N bookshelves now.