Audiobook Review: The Stowaway by James S. Murray and Darren Wearmouth
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3 of 5 stars
Genre: Thriller, Horror
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Macmillan Audio (September 21, 2021)
Length: 7 hrs and 54 mins
Narrator: Barrie Kreinik
As thrillers go, I suppose The Stowaway was serviceable. That said though, readers looking for something smarter or more sophisticated should probably look elsewhere, but on the other hand, if in-your-face bloody carnage and quick, sensational gimcrack thrills are more your speed, then it might be worth a look.
The bulk of this story takes place on a cruise ship, but two years before she embarked on that voyage from hell, protagonist Maria Fontana was a juror on a high-profile case that gripped the country. Charged with committing a string of gruesome child murders across the several states, alleged serial killer Wyatt Butler was set free due to a mistrial caused by a hung jury. After the public outcry, Maria eventually came forward and admitted on national television that she was the lone “not guilty” vote in order to protect her fellow jurors from harassment and death threats, though she in turn became the focus of all that vitriol. Later on, a book even came out about the trial which tried to smear her character and reputation as a psychologist. This led Maria to confront the author at a book signing, causing a scene that resulted in her forced sabbatical from the university at which she worked.
Fast forward to now, mere weeks before she is due back to work, Maria has decided to take a vacation with her family as a way to catch a break from the nightmare that her life has become in the last two years. She and her fiancé Steve have decided to take her two kids on a cruise to Europe, in what was supposed to be a week of relaxation and luxury across the Atlantic. Instead, the sighs turn into screams as a grisly discovery is made in an unoccupied stateroom. Then, kids on the ship start going missing, later found murdered in the most horrific, disturbing ways—almost exactly the way Wyatt Butler had killed his young victims. Had the way the trial played out been a terrible mistake, and a serial killer now roams free? Or might this be the work of a copycat, targeting Maria and her family for some reason?
Although I will probably seem harsh in my critique of this book, I just want to be clear that I believe all books serve a niche or a purpose, like I believe The Stowaway is going to appeal to readers in a certain mood for this type of thriller. By that, I mean here’s nothing really elegant about it; the bloodshed and descriptions of some of the brutal depravity in this book were clearly designed to shock and disgust, there’s no doubt about that. I also like to think I have a pretty strong stomach and high tolerance threshold for this kind of stuff, but even I felt a bit squeamish and queasy to read about this violence perpetrated on poor innocent children, so let that be a warning to prospective readers if content like that upsets you.
As for the story itself, admittedly the plot was rather formulaic and standard for its type. I’ve read the authors’ work before, the Awakened trilogy, so you could say I had the benefit of already knowing the kind of wild ride I was going to be in for. Not surprisingly, the pacing was breakneck, the twists and turns constant, but character development was minimal and perfunctory. It’s like the equivalent of watching a made-for-TV movie with C-list actors playing people you don’t care about—don’t want to care about, if I’m being honest, because let’s face it, you’re not there for the character development. It’s all about the popcorn thrills.
As dark and over-the-top as some of its themes were though, I do appreciate that the story doesn’t take itself too seriously. I listened to the audiobook edition, whose extras at the end included an exclusive interview with the authors, clearly great friends who have a lot of fun working together, which comes through in the writing.
Bottom line, I didn’t love The Stowaway, but I didn’t hate it either. In truth, I probably would have liked it more had it not been for the gratuitously gruesome parts; after all, I picked this one up for its popcorny aspects and, well, obviously the horrible descriptions of murdered children kind of put a damper on things. As long as you know what you’re in for though, it should make for a quick, entertaining read that will probably put you off the idea of cruises forever.