A great many London commuters will recognise the pivotal plot-defining moment of Paula Hawkins' exhilarating debut novel, The Girl on the Train: your train stops at signals at the same particular spot, at the same time every morning, day in and day out, week after week.
After a while you know, for example, the nuance of every last piece of grafitti adorning the wall just outside St Pancras and the pattern of traffic movement north of Luton.
Hawkins' commuter, Rachel Watson, gets a far more interesting view than ever I did. She peers right into the privacy of a couple whose house backs on to her line. She also has more imagination, and from the brief first-coffee glimpses she has of "Jason and Jess", as they become known to her, she constructs a fantasy of their entire lives.
Rachel, of course, sees something she should not. And she is not a reliable witness , carrying as she does on her daily journey more baggage than the average 747, including blossoming alcoholism and a vibrant bitterness for the life with her ex-husband that she left behind in a house that is just a few doors down from "golden couple", Jason and Jess.
It's a beautiful premise for a psychological thriller, and Hawkins sets it up cleverly right from the outset, drawing the reader inexorably into Rachel's confused world of day-dreams, half-truths and alcohol-fuelled mis-steps. Even before "Jess" goes missing, throwing the ill-equipped Rachel into the middle of a domestic mystery, we are locked into her battles with herself and those around her.
She is a complex protagonist, to say the very least. With her huge appetite for sauvignon blanc and self-destruction she does not cut a sympathetic character and yet throughout the novel I was pulling for her in spite of myself.
Despite a clever, almost irresistible plot, The Girl on the Train is elevated by Hawkins' gift for characterisation, and in particular the three women whose inter-twined tales reveal the story. Each is convincingly drawn with a warts-and-all honesty that helps keep the reader off balance.
It's probably inevitable, given the missing wife theme, that The Girl on the Train has been compared to Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl. The comparison is most apt in the meticulous execution of the narrative. Hawkins keeps the reader guessing from first to last while flinging them headlong through the whirlwind of Rachel's scattered and haphazard reality. This is no me-too novel, however, but carries instead the distinctive imprint of a writer with an elegant grasp of human frailty and a tremendous gift for story-telling.
An online teaser campaign run throughout the last months of 2014 made The Girl on the Train one of the most hotly anticipated titles of the year. It lived up to that promise and then some. I demolished it in a little over 24 hours and resented the time I spent away from it. Hawkins' follow-up, whenever it arrives, will be more eagerly awaited still.