9780735211209_a3de4 It may be the most eagerly awaited title of the upcoming season, so the daily NYT brings their popular-fiction critic Janet Maslin out of semi-retirement to do an early review of Paula Hawkins’s second novel after her breakout best seller The Girl on the Train.

Unfortunately, Maslin is disappointed. Acknowledging that Hawkins “could have published a book of 386 blank pages and hit the best-seller lists,” she dismantles Into the Water (PRH/Riverhead; RH Audio/BOT), writing “If The Girl on the Train seemed overplotted and confusing to some readers, it is a model of clarity next to this latest effort … jam-packed with minor characters and stories that go nowhere … [a] three-ring circus.”

Trade reviews range from a starred Booklist to a middling Publishers Weekly that says it juggles “a few too many story lines for comfort, but the payoff packs a satisfying punch” and a damning Kirkus which concludes, “Let’s call it sophomore slump and hope for better things.”  Maslin, whose rave review for Hawkins’s debut helped solidify the already growing word of mouth that launched it onto best seller lists, is in the Kirkus camp, asking,”What happened to the Paula Hawkins who structured The Girl on the Train so ingeniously?”

The book doesn’t arrive until next week, so there are few other reviews, but one echoes and goes beyond Maslin’s criticisms. Slate critic Laura Miller, who was no fan of Hawkins’s first, writes “Into the Water isn’t an impressive book. Its tone is uniformly lugubrious and maudlin, and Hawkins’ characters seldom rise to the level of two dimensions, let alone three.”

For her part, Maslin works hard to find redeeming qualities. “Many of us are going to read this novel anyway … So on the bright side for those who insist … while [the novel] chugs off to a slow, perplexing start, [it] develops a head of steam at an unlikely moment. It has exactly one smart, perfectly conceived Hitchcockian page: its last.”

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