Fresh Blood

Name: A.J. Finn

Title of Book: The Woman at the Window

'I would put a bet on it being one of the best-selling books of 2018.'

It has been ten long months since Anna Fox last left her home. Ten months during which she has haunted the rooms of her old New York house like a ghost, lost in her memories, too terrified to step outside.

Anna’s lifeline is her window, where she sits day after day, watching her neighbours. When the Russell’s move in, Anna is instantly drawn to them. A picture-perfect family of three, they are an echo of the life that was once hers.

But one evening, a frenzied scream rips across the silence and Anna witnesses something no one was supposed to see. When she reports the matter to the police, they can see Anna is not a well woman, a woman who drinks too much red wine, mixes alcohol with a ton of prescription medicines and watches far too many Noir films of decades past. Did she really see a crime being committed… or is it all in her head?

There is something very personal in the way Finn describes Anna’s life, locked alone in her large New York home. She has rented out the basement to her house, but even he is an enigma to her. There is no one she can turn to. It is this feeling of loneliness, of being a step outside with the rest of the world that Finn nails down to perfection. There were parts of Finn’s prose that struck a chord with me, making Anna’s plight, not just with the central crime, but with her daily struggle with life, all the more unbearable. At times I did feel as though I was the one looking in through a window, watching Anna slowly disintegrate, which at times could be uncomfortable.

Finn’s novel is littered with references to Noir classics from the 40’s and 50’s. Classic films such as ‘Vertigo’ and ‘The Thin Man’ all lend to the atmosphere of Anna’s plight, that feeling of being closed in, the walls of Anna’s house slowly moving, leaning in on her creating a sense of claustrophobia to go with Anna’s agoraphobia. It also raises the question as to whether what Anna is reporting is true or has her escape in to the world of film begun to bleed out and colour reality?

There will, of course, be the usual references to ‘Rear Window’ which many of us love. Anna’s decline is quite heart-breaking when revealed, but Finn leaves us on the up, with fresh beginnings. I can’t really say much about the plot, as any reference would give it away, so I will say that for me, the buzz around this book is justified. The short chapters and staccato language propelled me through this gripping novel. ‘The Woman in the Window’ is a very strong and assured debut. I would put a bet on it being one of the best-selling books of 2018.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) In your book ‚The Woman in the Window‘ there is a lot of links to the old classic films. Have you seen all of them? Are you a big fan of old movies?
As a teenager, I lived down the road from an art-house cinema, where I camped out every weekend. The managers hosted classic-movie nights, film noir retrospectives, Hitchcock marathons... and I feasted on all of it! I love the look, tone, and pace of older films: they’re stylish; they‘re sophisticated; they take their time establishing their characters and building suspense. By contrast, many modern films rocket forward at a breathless pace, and look as though they’ve been shot and edited without much care or craft.
2) In general, what do you prefer, a book of a film? What is your favourite film?
My favorite film? That’s a tough one. It changes by the day. I’m particularly fond of 'The Third Man' (1949), 'Les Diaboliques‘ (1955), 'Rosemary’s Baby' (1968), and Hitchcock’s 'Shadow of a Doubt' (1943), as well as the 2003 maritime adventure 'Master and Commander'. Interestingly, all of those movies except Shadow of a Doubt were based on books. But as much as I love films, my true passion is literature.
3) How long did you take to write ‚The Woman in the Window‘?
It took me exactly twelve months to write. I had the idea for the story in September of 2015, and submitted a 7500-word outline to my friend Jennifer, a well-regarded literary agent in New York. She encouraged me to proceed, so a year later, the finished novel was on submission, thanks to Jennifer and my equally well-regarded UK agent Felicity (also a friend - I like to work with friends).

I hadn’t dabbled in fiction since my school days, but I’ve written plenty of academic papers and book reviews. So I assumed that the ins and outs of sentence-level composition - the writing - would pose no problem; it was the characterization and plot-work that spooked me. To my surprise, Anna took shape very quickly, like a figure approaching through mist, dragging her story with her pretty much intact. And it was the writing that proved challenging!
4) Thrillers are very popular genre all over the world now. Why do you think people are so keen on reading thrillers?
Like much fiction, thrillers provide a form of escape, and in times of political upheaval and global unrest, it makes sense that readers would turn to escapist material. But this genre offers another attraction: In most thrillers, order and justice are eventually restored, and heroes are rewarded whilst villains are punished. That’s an appealing notion for many readers, especially in a world where injustice too often seems to triumph.
5) When can we expect to see the movie 'The Woman in the Window' in the cinemas? If YOU can choose ANY actress casting Anna Fox who would you like to see there? Do you have any dream casting?
The film rights were preempted by Fox 2000, the studio that made ‘Gone Girl’ and ‘Life of Pi’, and the movie will be produced by Oscar winner Scott Rudin, who made ‘No Country for Old Men’, ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’, and ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’, among other movies. Fox and Rudin would like to release the film in late 2018—which is coming up fast...

As for casting, I suspect that I could name six actresses only to see the filmmakers cast a seventh! So instead, I’ll tell you whom I would have cast were Hitchcock making the film sixty or seventy years ago: Gene Tierney. She wasn't a ‘Hitchcock blonde’, or indeed any kind of blonde, and perhaps that's why he never worked with her; but her life was marked by a series of traumas that would have helped to prepare her for the lead role. And she radiated both steeliness and vulnerability.