Into The Water

By Paula Hawkins, A convoluted and problematic mystery

So, I have lots of thoughts about Into the Water by Paula Hawkins. There’s spoilers ahead (at the end), but I’ll warn you before they start.

Plot Summary (No Spoilers)

For the Detailed Plot Summary, click here or scroll all the way down.

The town of Beckford is known as a suicide spot. Its Drowning Pool is a place where many people have committed suicide and where other deaths have occurred over the years. When Jules she receives word that her long-estranged sister has been found dead there, she has no choice but to venture back to a place she never wanted to return to.

The police are quick to categorize the death as a “jumper,” but Jules knows that the circumstances of her sister’s death are suspicious, to say the least. To find out what happened to her sister that night, Jules will have to go back into the history of the Drowning Pool and discover the secrets that the many people in this town keep.

Book Review (No Spoilers)

So, Into The Water is primarily about the investigation into a death that occurs at the “Drowning Pool”, a part of a river that lies underneath a cliff where many deaths have occurred over the years. But the Drowning Pool’s storied history quickly comes into play, and the circumstances surrounding a number of other deaths come into question as well.

As a result, in order to tell this story and the many other stories that tie into it, there are a lot of characters and points of views that are brought in. To complicate things, as this is a mystery, there are, of course, a ton of misunderstandings and a pieces of false information and misleading statements that serve as red herrings cropping up as well.

As a result, a lot, a lot is going on in this book. It is, arguably, is a little hard to follow. Not in an unreasonable way, but you might need to read this a little slower than is typical for a thriller.

In general, I found it better written than your typical mystery-thriller. It doesn’t feel like something Hawkins plotted and then just banged out quickly. Instead, the writing feel intentional, and I liked that the characters acted based on the motivations that make sense their personality (as opposed to some thrillers where everyone’s only motivation is to act in furtherance of the plot).

I also thought it was nice how much thought had been put into the message that the book wanted to impart about the Drowning Pool and the way society treats troublesome women, though some may find this a little preachy.

Book Review: Some Criticisms (No Spoilers)

In terms of the twists and turns, that’s where things started to break down for me. There’s a ton of them in general. If you love mysteries where there are a lot of red herrings and false turns, then you might like this book. However, I got a little impatient after a while since at some point the plot just feels very “messy”. There’s just a ton of false information and a lot of cryptic statements.

If you read her novel The Girl on the Train, this book is very different from that. The Girl on the Train is much more tightly plotted. Most of the information you get comes into play and you’re just trying to figure out how the pieces fit. In Into the Water, there’s just an onslaught stuff and so much of what you’re “told” is false, so figuring out the ending is just guesswork. In a tightly plotted thriller, only a few specific sets of circumstances can “explain” everything. In a messy thriller, it’s just a matter of who the author chooses at the end.

I also personally hate those cheesy moments when the author fakes you out to make you think something dramatic has happened, but actually it’s nothing. Thriller writers seem to love these, but I can’t stand them. There’s a ton of that in here.

Read it or Skip it? (No Spoilers)

The book is a suspenseful and twisty one, and the writing is solid. It’s a little hard to follow, but definitely not impossible. If you go in knowing you’ll need to concentrate a little, you’ll be fine.

Towards the end, I was a little tired of all the red herrings (so much of this book is just a ton of red herrings) and the convoluted plot, but overall I was entertained by it even if I didn’t find it entirely satisfying.

However, this book is a hard “skip it” for me, because I can’t possibly recommend it due to an issue I have regarding the substance of the book. It’s a medium-ish spoiler (it gets revealed about half-way through), so I’m not going to spoil that detail for anyone who wants to read it. But suffice to say, I personally am not able to recommend this book to anyone.


Spoilers start here. It’s not a major spoiler, I don’t think, but it is a spoiler. I’m really only revealing one plot point, so it won’t ruin the book for you. But out of respect for anyone who hates any type of spoiler, proceed with caution!

Also, if you’re looking for the Detailed Plot Summary, click here or scroll all the way down.

Spoiler-ish Thoughts (Spoilers)

Towards the end, the book starts trying to convince us that Katie (a 15-year-old child) and Mark (a 29 year-old-man) were genuinely “in love” which I cannot possibly even remotely understand why she tries to do that. It’s one thing for Mark to think it, since obviously he’s a delusional pedophile, but for Lena to think so too makes me think that Hawkins seems to think that teachers preying on their students is okay?

I considered that perhaps Hawkins didn’t really mean that (since it’s a character saying it, not her), but the rest of the book is so explicitly preachy about stuff, that it seems weird she wouldn’t at least reference the fact the an adult teacher sleeping with a child is completely wrong no matter what, despite what the characters think.

I really, really, really could not get behind this idea that Mark and Katie being together was somehow “true love”. It’s not.

There’s a whole two chapters where it’s just Lena justifying the relationship between Mark and Katie, saying that he’s just a “sad old man” (“You don’t understand, he wasn’t some, like, evil sexual predator. He was just a sad old man”) and like oh, at least he didn’t attack me, he’s not like that (“She seemed to think that Mark had assaulted me, like she maybe thought he was some sort of pervert who couldn’t keep his hands off teenage girls.”), etc. Plus her whole bit about them belonging together (“There’s a tiny, twisted part of me that sort of wishes I believed in an afterlife, and that the two of them could pick up again there, and maybe things might be all right for them, and she’d be happy. As much as I hate him, I’d like to think that somehow Katie could be happy”).

A guy who sleeps with children is not just a “sad old man”, they’re 100% evil predator. Just because he “only” sleeps with one child doesn’t make him any less of a pervert, he is 100% a pervert who couldn’t keep his hands off teenage girls. Seriously, Paula Hawkins? WTF? I feel pretty confident any child that’s been molested doesn’t think that the perpetrator is any less evil because they were the only one it happened to.

Anyone old enough to be out of college that’s convinced that their soul mate is anyone in high school (or younger) needs therapy. I don’t care if you think you love them and they love you back. That child doesn’t know any better, and you’re a predator. Full stop, no exclusions.

The fact that he just leaves town at the end is not an acceptable conclusion. He belongs in jail. That resolution seems to imply that the only issue is how society views their relationship, not the fact that he’s a child molester.

It bothers me even more because it feels like Hawkins seems so intentional in this book about the message she wants to impart about women and how they get treated by society. Anyway, I don’t get what happened here, but I just can’t recommend this book.


Detailed Plot Summary (Spoilers)

Prologue (Libby)

A girl, Libby, is bound by a group of men and drowned in the water as she pleads for them to stop.

Part 1

Josh

Josh Whittaker sees his mom (Louise) go out at 4 AM and doesn't return until after 7 AM. When his father (Alec) wakes up, she says she was just out for milk, but Josh knows she's lying since it wouldn've have taken over 3 hours. She says that Nel Abbott is dead, that they found her in the water after she jumped. His mom seems happy about it.

Katie, Josh's sister, died earlier this year. She killed herself in the Drowning Pool.

Jules and Lena

Julia ("Jules") Abbott's gets the news about Nel (her sister, Danielle Abbott). She makes her way to Beckford, to Mill House where her sister lived and where they used to spend summers as children. Nel was obsessed with Beckford's Drowning Pool, the part of the river that sits underneath a cliff where people often committed suicide. Jules meets Lena Abbott, her sister's daugher for the first time.

Detective Inspector Sean Townsend and Detective Sergeant Erin Morgan speak with Jules and Lena. They think Nel accidentally fell. Nel was fully clothed and left no note behind. Lena disagrees, she thinks Nel jumped. Lena angrily goes to her room and cries. She thinks this was her fault. She's angry with herself and she's angry with Jules, too.

Nickie

Nickie Sage lives near the Drowning Pool. Nickie has been in trouble with the police for consumer protection reasons because since she works as a fortune teller / psychic. Nickie knows Nel didn't jump, but doesn't want to get involved with the cops.

Mark and Louise

Mark Henderson is relieved after Nel's death. The police show up to ask questions since he was seen talking to Nel at the pub that night. After they leave, he still worries that Lena will cause problems for him.

Louise Whittaker, mother of Josh and Katie, sees Mark and they talk about Nel. They acknowledge that Louise and Nel disliked each other. Nel was working on a book about the Drowning Pool, and Louise worries Lena will still publish the book. On the street, Lena tries to talk to her, but Louise won't let her.

Danielle ("Nel"), The Drowning Pool

In an excerpt from her book, Nel writes about her love of swimming, of saving Jules from drowning when she was 17, and how she's always been interested in the Drowning Pool.

She also writes about the many lives of women who have been lost to the Drowning Pool. And in discussing its history, she begins with saying that it was once used as a place to drown witches.

Erin

Erin Morgan (Detective Sergeant) has come to help with the investigation. She's told by the Chief Inspector that Nel probably jumped. Sean (Detective Investigator) disagrees.

They note that Nel had set up two cameras by the pool as part of her research. The camera at the top of the cliff was vandalized at one point, though and is still damaged. The camera at the bottom wouldn't tell them much.

Townsend explains that Nel and Louise used to be friends, and their daughters Katie and Lena were friends. When Louise and Nel fell out over Nel's research on the Drowning Pool, Lena and Katie stopped hanging out. After Katie killed herself a few months ago, Louise blamed Nel. Erin thinks its suspicious that two women connected to each other would both commit suicide at the same place months apart.

Jules and Nel

Jules does not believe Nel jumped. Nel once said that the Drowning Pool is actually not a great place to commit suicide, since the cliff is not that high. Also Nel said that if you're serious about it, you need to dive in headfirst. When she IDs the body, she notes that Nel's feet are broken, so she did not go in headfirst.

Jules asks Erin about a bracelet from their mother that Nel always wore. It's engraved SJA (Sarah Jane Abbot). Erin says there's no sign of it.

Jules and Lena argue about Jules's relationship with Nel. Nel and Jules were estranged. Nel wanted to reconnect and called her a lot, but Jules refused. Jules replays the last few messages Nel had left her, asking her to talk, and realizes that Nel had been scared of something.

Jules recalls that she and Nel stopped getting along after an incident when Nel was 17 and Jules was 13. Years later, after their mother had passed away of an illness, Nel asks Jules a question that causes Jules to break off contact completely.

Jules also recalls the summer when she was 13. Lena was dating a boy, Robbie Cannon, at the time who was handsome and popular. After an embarrassing incident with other kids, Jules drinks for the first time and later that day goes for a swim, which is when Nel had to drag her out and save her.

Libby

Jules finds a lighter that's engraved "LS". She remembers that when Nel first became interested in the Drowning Pool, she was obsessed with Libby. Libby was one of the witches who was drowned. In actuality, she was a (14-year-old) girl who was said to have "seduced" an older (34-year-old) man. Jules wonders if LS was for Libby (Seeton). In Nel's notes it says "Beckford is not a suicide spot. Beckford is a place to get rid of troublesome women."

Patrick

Patrick Townsend, Sean's father, borrows his daughter-in-law's (Helen, Sean's wife) car to go to a cottage near the river where he fishes. When he gets there, he realizes someone has been in there.

The Funeral

The town gathers for Nel's funeral. Lena is still angry, mostly with herself though. The day Nel died they'd gotten in a fight, and in anger she'd blamed Nel for Katie's suicide.

At the funeral, Jules sees Robbie Cannon there watching Lena and her blood runs cold. Jules remembers how after she got drunk for the first time, he raped her. Without explaining why, she suggests to Sean that he should look into Robbie as a suspect.

Nickie

One of Nickie's ancestors was a witch who was drowned. She feels a little responsible for Nel's death because it sparked Nel's interest in the Drowning Pool when she told Nel about it.

Nickie's little sister is Jeannie (Jean). A long time ago, Jeannie was a cop and told her an incriminating story about Patrick Townsend (Sean's father, ex-cop). Nickie now avoids Patrick, and its one of the reasons she distrusts police.

After the funeral Nickie accosts Sean, telling him that Nel's death "wasn't like Katie Whittaker. This was like your mother."

Lauren

Lauren Townsend killed herself at the Drowning Pool just before her 32nd birthday. She didn't know that Sean, 6 or 7 at the time, had been there. He'd gotten there with his father and was running towards her, though Sean hadn't actually seen her jump.

In Nel's notes, she writes that Lauren had been unhappy and in love with another man.

Part 2

The Pills

Louise decides it's finally time to start clearing Katie's room. Louise is wearing the necklace Katie was wearing when she died. It's a little blue bird necklace that Lena had given Katie. She thinks about Nel, who she thinks glamorized the idea of suicide. Nel described the idea of those women choosing a place of death as a thing of beauty and made them seem like romantic heroines.

She finds a bottle of pills in Katie's room and immediately brings it to Sean. The pills are diet pills (Rimato) that were prescribed to Nel. Louise sees it as proof that Nel was supplying Katie with drugs.

Erin looks into the matter. Jules tells her it's strange because the pills were purchased on November 18 which is when Nel was in the hospital for an appendectomy. She remembers because it's the anniversary of their mother's death too. It seems weird that she would've found time to order diet pills.

(Erin also updates Jules on Robbie. He has some domestic violence convictions, but he was out of town that night and hasn't spoken to Nel in years.)

Lena is brought in and admits that she bought them with her mom's credit card because Katie asked her to. She adds the Katie only took a few of them. Erin notes that Lena seems to know something she's not telling them, but Lena leaves.

Erin

Meanwhile, the prints that were pulled off of Nel's damaged camera have come back. They're Louise Whittaker's. Erin pays her a visit as well. She also informs Louise that they re-tested it, and Katie definitely had no drugs in her system.

After some prodding, Louise admits that the fingerprints on the camera are hers. After Nel's death, she insisted on seeing the footage in her camera and Nel wouldn't let her. In anger, she later went to the cliff and damaged the camera.

Jules

Jules goes through Nel's notes and is amazed to see Nel describe herself as having "saved my sister from drowning." Jules only recalls going swimming and Nel roughly grabbing her and yelling at her. At home afterwards, Nel says she's sorry he hurt her, but that Jules should never tell anyone.

Annie

Erin hears about Annie ("Mad Annie") Ward who used to own the cottage the Patrick often uses when he goes fishing. She was one of the women who died in the Drowning Pool in the twenties. According to Nel, Annie was a woman who murdered her husband who was mistreating her.

Nickie

Nickie decides she needs to talk to Lena, bringing along some pages from the manuscript that she'd been working with Nel on before Nel died.

Helen, Sean, Jeannie and Patrick

Helen is concerned about Patrick, since he seems confused at times. The past year in general has been tough, since she found out about Sean's infidelity. Sean cheated on her. Patrick convinced her to stay. Patrick was the one who initially wanted Sean to marry Helen because he knew Helen would be faithful to Sean (unlike his own wife who cheated on him).

Jeannie knows something about Patrick and left town after Patrick threatened her (basically saying he would find a gang of men to gang rape her). Jeannie was the cop who took care of Sean right after Sean's mother died.

Mark, Katie and Lena

Erin learns that Katie and Lena had a fight a month before Katie died, and their teacher, Mark intervened. Erin pays him a visit. Mark is cagey. He lies to her by saying he has a fiancee even though they broke off their engagement.

Feeling anxious, Mark goes to the school to look for some pictures he knows are in the head office. The filing cabinet is locked though, so he goes to Helen's desk (she's the head teacher) to get the keys. Instead he sees a bracelet with the initials SJA. He takes it.

Lena runs into Josh, and he suggests telling the police about something, but Lena says they promised Katie they wouldn't. They end up at Mark's house instead and Lena throws a rock through his window, giggling.

Lena recalls how she and Katie started flirting with Mark as a joke or a game. But then months later she found out Katie and him were having an affair. Katie was in love with him, and she killed herself to protect him.

Sean, on duty, goes to talk to Josh. A neighbor saw a broken window and a boy riding away. Josh ends up explaining to Sean about Mr. Henderson and Katie sleeping together.

Erin asks Helen about Mark and Katie. She says it's possible Lena is making it up. She notes that Lena used to flirt aggressively with Mark.

After Louise confronts Lena about the news, Lena admits to Jules that the reason Katie felt she needed to protect Mark is because Nel threatened to expose them. Nel thought Katie shouldn't be sleeping with Mark. Lena lies to Louise and tells her she (Lena) was the one who threatened to expose Katie.

After Nel had found out about the affair, Lena and argued bitterly over how to deal with it. Lena had seen Nel confront Matthew. The day Nel had gone to Katie and pushed her to get help from her or her parents was the day Katie jumped. Lena believes Nel may have felt guilty and that's why she killed herself.

That night, Jules realizes Nel has not come home.

Part 3

Jules

Jules comes to realization that Lena is Robbie's daughter. She tracks him down to ask if Lena is with him, but he seems genuinely confused. (They also argue. He says he never raped her and that she wanted it. He also tells her Nel didn't know about it. He told Nel that Jules came onto him but he pushed her to get away.)

Mark and Lena

Mark comes home (he's been out of town) to find the windows of his house broken, and he realizes the cat's out of the bag.

Meanwhile, Lena has broken in and is inside. She sees her mother's SJA bracelet and assumes that Mark killed her mother. As Mark enters the house, Lena attacks him. They fight and he subdues her and puts her in his car and drives off.

Erin and Sean

In the morning, Erin and Sean find Jules in the Drowning Pool (alive; she had melodramatically flung herself in the night before), and gets news that Mark is missing, Lena is gone and there's blood all over his house. They correctly assume that Mark must've taken Lena.

Erin goes to question Louise, and Louise implies that Sean and Nel had some type of relationship.

Sean is at Mark's house. They've also picked up Mark's ex-fiancee, Tracy McBride, who tells them that the engagement was off and that she hasn't seen him in a long time, contrary to what he's been telling people. Tracy also tells them about a cabin he might be at in Hopwick.

Lauren and Sean

Nickie goes to find Lena, who's not there. Instead she tells Jules about Lauren Townsend (formerly Slater, the "LS" lighter was hers). Nickie says Nel's notes were incorrect since she got the story from Sean.

Instead, Jeannie told Nickie the real story. Lauren was in a loveless marriage and Patrick mistreated her. People thought she was having an affair because she spent time at the Ward cottage (on the cliff), but it's only because she needed to get away sometimes and felt a kinship with Anne.

Nickie thinks Patrick didn't chase her up there to talk her down. He followed her up to the cottage at the cliff and pushed her.

Sean recalls his affair with Nel. She'd started talking to him for information for her book, but it evolved into an affair. When Patrick found out, he beat Sean and told Helen.

Mark, Lena and Sean

Mark takes Lena toward Hopwick, but on the way they fight again. He tells Lena he'll tell her what he knows if she tells everyone that she and Josh lied about all the Katie stuff (otherwise, he'll be considered a sex offender).

Lena agrees. Mark tells her that he didn't kill Nel. He found her bracelet in Helen's desk drawer. Lena then runs away and makes her way to a store where they call Sean. (Mark presumably drives off and disappears, but it doesn't say explicitly.)

Sean brings Lena home where Jules is waiting.

Erin

Erin confronts Sean about his affair with Nel, since it's would be inappropriate that he would investigate her death. Sean doesn't answer.

Erin runs into Nickie who cryptically tells her to look into Lauren but she doesn't listen. Jules also calls Erin but she doesn't call her back right then.

Erin finds Helen at Patrick's place. He lives next door to Sean, and Helen takes care of him. Helen accidentally cuts herself with a knife and Erin helps her clean it up. As Erin asks about Sean's affair, Patrick walks in. Patrick accuses Erin of having previously slept with a younger colleague. He threatens Erin and then Jules walks in.

Jules confronts Helen about the bracelet. Helen claims that she found it. Patrick then cuts in and admits that it was him who pushed Nel over and took the bracelet off her before he did. He knew she was asking questions and they met to talk about it at the cliff.

Patrick also ends up admitting to Lauren's murder, since he figures it will come out anyway. He and Lauren fought. He had injured her seriously, so he ended up taking her body and tossing it off the cliff.

His reason for taking Sean along for the ride is that he couldn't leave him alone in the house during a thunderstorm.

Part 4

After everything is sorted, Lena agrees to go to London to live with Jules. She says goodbye to Josh. Louise tells Lena she forgives her out of kindness, even though deep down she doesn't. She is trying to.

Erin notes that Patrick claims he tore the bracelet off Nel's wrist but there was evidence of that. Sean resigns and moves away. He leaves Helen.

In the final chapter, Sean admits that he had started remembering pieces of that night that his dad killed his mom. After Katie died, Nel started talking to Nickie a lot (who presumably told her about Lauren's death, which she knew about thanks to Jeannie who had been the one taking care of Sean right after it happened).

Nel had been pushing him to remember all of it and brought him to the cliff. He couldn't deal with the memories so he pushed her off the cliff.

(This doesn't really explain what happened re: the bracelet which I thought was supposed to be smoking gun in this book. Where the bracelet was found and who took it off Nel and why there's no evidence of it being torn off her wrist -- none if it gets answered, but whatever.)

See Into The Water on Amazon.

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