Lisa Unger mixes Hitchcock’s “Strangers on a Train” with her own brand of twisted murder mystery to create a fascinating look at what happens when your problems suddenly disappear in a way that makes more problems for you. Selena is a hard-working wife and mother who leaves work late one evening, then the train stalls on the track and she starts to converse with her seat mate Martha. Martha, strangely enough, confesses that she is having an affair with her boss. Not to be outdone, Selena confesses to Martha that her nanny Geneva is having an affair with her own husband Graham. Honestly, Graham was probably my least favorite character, but I am certain that was by design by the author. He was weak-willed and lazy but seemed to have some kind of special charm that attracted women. Anyway, once Selena meets and talks to Martha, the action really begins and the plot twists and turns in so many ways that it was hard to keep follow at first. There are three POV’s and the identity of two of the women was hard for me to discern at first, as was whether the time frame was in the present or the past. Once I discerned who was who and when things were happening, I was a much happier reader! This book was filled with intrigue, murder, infidelity and deception (which kind of goes along with infedelity, doesn’t it). And as if there were not enough going on in this complex story, add blackmail to the mix. None of the narrators is totally trustworthy and that contributed to the magnetic pull for me as a real mystery buff. Fans of Unger and those who really enjoy a good mystery will not want to miss this one!
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Testimonials and Endorsements in Advertising.”
Lisa Unger is the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of eighteen novels, including CONFESSIONS ON THE 7:45 (Oct. 2020). With millions of readers worldwide and books published in twenty-six languages, Unger is widely regarded as a master of suspense. Her critically acclaimed books have been voted “Best of the Year” or top picks by the Today show, Good Morning America, Entertainment Weekly, Amazon, IndieBound and others. Her essays have appeared in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, and Travel+Leisure. She lives on the west coast of Florida with her family.
Q&A with Lisa Unger
Q: Please give the elevator pitch for Confessions on the 7:45.
A: Selena Murphy is a young mother who is having a terrible day. When she gets on her commuter train home, it stalls, dying on the tracks. The beautiful stranger sitting next to her strikes up a conversation with a confession. Maybe it’s her awful day, or the drink she shouldn’t have had, or the dark of the train, but, whatever the reason, Selena shares a secret of her own. When the train comes back to life and Selena is finally headed home, she’s embarrassed. What would lead her to confess her darkest secret to a complete stranger? She hopes she’ll never see the mysterious woman from the train, ever again. But, of course, she will.
Q: How do the ideas come to you for these bestsellers?
A: Every novel begins with a germ. A little zap of interest that starts me on an obsession for a particular topic. It could be a news story I read, or a sentence I hear or just an image that inspires me. One time it was even a piece of junk mail! Then, if that obsession connects to something larger that’s going on with me, I start to hear a voice or voices.I follow those voices, and they carry me through the narrative.
Q: Can you explain the popularity of the psychological thriller genre?
A: People have a deep and abiding desire, a need even, to understand themselves and those around them. This includes having some insight into the darkest aspects of human nature. Crime fiction is the perfect place to explore some of the big questions people have about what makes people who they are. Also, in difficult times, crime fiction provides a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end where some type of justice is delivered. Not so with the real world. So I think there is some comfort to be found even in the darkest and most suspenseful novels.
Q: There are so many twists in the story. Did you know the ending before you plotted all of the surprises?
A: When I sit down to write, I have no idea what’s going to happen, who’s going to show up or what they’re going to do day to day. And I certainly have no idea how things will end. It’s kind of a crazy way to write a book, but I’ve never done it any other way. I write for the same reason that I read, because I want to know what’s going to happen.
Q: What would you like to do if you were not an author?
A: I don’t know! I’ve never wanted to be anything other than an author. Psychology has always fascinated me, so maybe being a psychiatrist or counselor.
Q: If Confessions on the 7:45 were made into a movie, which actors would you choose to play the lead roles?
A: I would cast Scarlett Johansson as Selena and Gal Gadot as Martha. The supporting cast would be important, too, and Anne Hathaway would be perfect as Geneva and I’d love to see Bradley Cooper as Graham.
Q: Which of your books would you like to see televised or produced by Hollywood as a movie?
A: Any of them! Currently, THE RED HUNTER and UNDER MY SKIN are under options. So fingers crossed there! If I had to choose some others, I’d pick FRAGILE or INK AND BONE. I’d love to see my fictional town The Hollows come to life on the big or small screen.
Q: Which came first: the characters or the plot line?
A: The characters, always. My stories always begin for me with a voice, someone with a story to tell.
Q: Why do you love Selena and why should readers root for her?
A: As most of my characters are, Selena is imperfect. The pressures she experiences from the world around her are matched by those she places on herself. She is struggling, but she also knows she has reserves of strength from which to draw to overcome the obstacles she faces, some of which are catastrophic. I think we’re all stronger and braver than we believe ourselves to be, so when we’re rooting for Selena, we’re really rooting for the warrior within us all.
Q: How do you come up with your stories? Is anything based on or influenced by real life?
A: Everything in fiction is autobiographical — and nothing is! If we’re writing from a deep and authentic place, then all of our experiences, our observations, the people we meet, the situations we observe, the conversations we have and overhear, inform our fiction. Sometimes inspiration comes from the news, from travel, from questions I have about people and the world. My fiction is always influenced by my real life but in really layered and mysterious ways.
Q: What was your last 5-star read?
A: I’ve read so many fantastic books recently! GOOD GIRLS LIE by JT Ellison, IF IT BLEEDS by Stephen King, and LITTLE SECRETS by Jennifer Hillier are some of my favorite recent reads.
Q: What is one thing about publishing you wish someone would have told you?
A: I worked for a publisher before I became an author, so I was lucky to have a lot of insight into the business of publishing. So I suppose I’d like to share what I knew going in that a lot of writers don’t. I knew that the book contract was not the end of the journey, but the beginning of the writing life. And that no matter where you are in your career — an aspiring writer, or a published writer just starting out, or a mega bestseller, it never stops being about the writing. What you do on the page is always the most important element of your career, so never stop trying to get better.