“You can never see anything clearly when you’re running.” – Lisa Lutz, The Passenger
Hey, look! I read another thriller book! How surprised are you? It’s becoming a bit of a trend these days. Not too sure why; I promise I’m not planning a murder. Anyway, I’ve just finished The Passenger by Lisa Lutz. Here are my thoughts.
Tanya Dubois had nothing to do with her husband’s death. Or at least, that’s what she claims when we first meet her- our unreliable narrator. About as quickly as you could fall down the stairs… Tanya makes a run for it, and clearly, it isn’t her first time doing so. Tanya forms an unlikely bond with a woman named Blue and drinks ten times her body weight in whiskey, but still manages to stay on the run. Throughout the book we’re introduced to our protagonist multiple times- under different names and identities- but is it possible for her to hide from her questionable past? Something happened ten years ago, and it’s coming to the surface once again.
The premise of the novel is not that revolutionary, it’s something we’ve all seen before. That being said, it was executed fairly well. The pacing was consistent and I never fell into a rut where I couldn’t pick up the book again. You can have a lot of fun with an unreliable narrator, and this novel, in particular, had one that captured my interest. Tanya (as we’ll call her for now… although she does go by many other names) manages to keep her past a secret until the very end. I did pick up on clues and hints along the way, and by the time I had about a third left I had a general idea of what was going to happen. I was still intrigued and didn’t find the story to be overly predictable.
The small cast of supporting characters- like Blue, for instance, added a great dynamic to the story. I really enjoyed reading about the relationships that Tanya formed, especially since she would often have to let them go to stay under the radar. The parts I liked the most, though, involved Tanya on her own, alone with her thoughts in various strange situations. Lisa Lutz is quick-witted and clever- even the title, The Passenger, seems to have no correlation at first, but it becomes clear eventually why it was chosen. She manages to inject some dark humour into her writing, which allows you to immerse yourself in Tanya’s world. I especially enjoyed that because I saw my own sense of humour and style of speech in this novel. Each section or chapter also ends with an email from Tanya’s past, and slowly, we can piece together the real reason why she is running, which I thought was a nice touch. There were several occasions where I didn’t want to stop reading because the moments of true suspense were very well written, but to be honest, they were few and far between.
Now I’ll move onto the other side of the coin. I found this novel to be repetitive. Every time Tanya takes on a new identity, she undergoes the same process of altering her appearance and figuring out how best to conduct herself under the new name. I mentioned this next thing already, but Tanya drinks like a fish, and that’s pretty much the only character trait she keeps during the whole story. Another thing that bothered me was (and this really isn’t that much of a spoiler- it happens in the first couple pages) the fact that Tanya’s husband Frank just fell down the stairs and died. I mean… it was a little too tidy and convenient (maybe even unrealistic? Or too realistic?) for my taste, and it kind of bugged me throughout the story. The whole attitude in this book surrounding death and murder is a bit sterile– or textbook, I should say.
The ending is what got to me the most. To me, a strong ending can make or break a novel, and in this case, I was slightly underwhelmed. Yes, we do get to find out what happened in Tanya’s past, and yes, we do get a classic wrapping-up of the events, but I felt disappointed.Maybe because the characters that deserved justice didn’t receive it, maybe because I sympathized with Tanya. Another thing: the “twist” with one of the characters didn’t surprise me at all. In any case, I liked the symmetry of the ending (you’ll know what I mean if you’ve read it).
To conclude, I will say that this story was one that managed to keep my attention and interest, but I wouldn’t say that I was fully involved in it. As I mentioned, some events and conflicts felt unrealistic to me and pulled me right out of the story, but the clever ideas and humour brought me in again. It had a nice flow and pace to it and didn’t take too long to read. Apparently, Lisa Lutz’s other novel series (The Spellman series) is a lot more popular, but fortunately (or unfortunately…) I’ve never heard of or read those books, so you’re getting my honest first impression of her writing. And I have to say, I did have a good time with this book.
Happy reading! x