Did A. J. Finn (“The Woman in the Window” (2018)) plagiarise Sarah A. Denzil’s thriller “Saving April” (2016)?

A. J. Finn’s voice and story were like nothing I’d ever heard before,” Editor, William Morrow Publishing; Even in fiction, there are precedents in copyright law where the borrowing of plot elements is so extensive and blatant that plagiarism crosses into copyright infringement”, Rebecca Tushnet, Intellectual Property Expert, Harvard Law School

The Woman in the Window Book CoverThe Woman in the Window is a 2018 debut thriller and international bestseller by A. J. Finn (Dan Mallory), which sold millions of copies, with the film based on the book to be released in 2020 starring Julianne Moore. Daily Express called the book “masterpiece of storytelling” and Stephen King said that it was “unputdownable”. Saving April is a 2016 lesser-known book by Sarah A. Denzil, released two years before The Woman in the Window and first being available in an e-book format. As I will show below, the similarities between the two books are overwhelming, both in their scope and in their nature, and, clearly, Finn took everything that he possibly could from Denzil’s thriller to write his bestseller. Jane Harper noted that Finn is “a tremendous new talent”. By the end of my comparison, it may become clear that the only talent Finn possibly has (apart from insolence) is taking nearly all of other writers’ ideas, elaborating on them slightly and then passing others’ stories as his own.

Saving April Book CoverBoth books undoubtedly drew inspiration from classic film noir, especially from Hitchcock’s Rear Window [1954] and Amiel’s Copycat [1995] as well as from such books as Gone Girl [2012] and The Girl on the Train [2015]. However, even though The Woman in the Window feels like a more accomplished and elaborate book that Saving April, it is still the same exact story as Saving April and the similarities between the two are too numerous in their number and too close in their nature for there to be any talk of “inspiration” or “simple source”. In fact, the two stories are so similar that Saving April can be the first/second/third draft of The Woman in the Window. Reading the two thrillers side-by-side, one may become immediately confused which part they read in which book – so similar they are in virtually every way.

The similarities between the two books are as follows (this is far from being an exhaustive list)

*** MAJOR! SPOILERS ALERT FOR THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW [2018] AND SAVING APRIL [2016] ***

Hannah Abbott = Anna Fox

– The main character/unreliable narrator Anna Fox from The Woman in the Window is almost the same character as Hannah Abbott from Saving April. Their names sound similar, and they share similar feelings and thoughts about other characters and situations. Both are middle-aged, lonely, relatively friendless and reclusive women who live on their own in a suburban place not far from a big city and suffer from social isolation. Hannah’s parents passed away seven years ago [2016: 60], whereas Anna’s parents passed away four years ago [2018: 74].

Hannah and Anna are either unemployed or self-employed who have “clients” online (their daily life revolves around the Internet): In Saving April, Hannah works as a self-employed online editor with her clients being on the Internet (on her Fiverr social network, where she receives stories to edit), and Anna does not work (she is an ex-child psychologist and spends her days helping people (her clients) in an “agoraphobia” online chatroom/forum, where she provides counselling for them).

Hannah and Anna’s homes are portrayed as more or less disorganised with bottles lying about and TV/films taking the central stage in their lives. Both Anna and Hannah are avid film-watchers in their respective stories. Anna in The Woman in the Window is obsessed with old films and references her favourite black-and-white films, while Hannah in Saving April also loves her TV/VCR pastime, saying at one point: “…my geekiness, my propensity to escaping into fantasy fiction and films, became more and more lame” [Denzil, 2016: 61].

Hannah and Anna in their respective stories are relative alcoholics who suffer from agoraphobia (fear of open spaces, including the fear of stepping outside of their homes) in some form or another, though Anna from The Woman in the Window suffers from it much more. While wine is the preferred drink of Anna and wine-drinking is everywhere in The Woman in the Window, Hannah from Saving April likes to interchange wine and vodka: “I turn back to the kitchen, pour a finger of chilled vodka into a tumbler, and turn on the kitchen taps to finish the washing up” [Denzil, 2016: 7].

Hannah and Anna both seem to suffer from PTSD/grief/depression because of some traumatic event that happened in their past and which relates to their family (they are haunted by their traumatic past) [see the ending similarities below for more details] – they both live on their own as a result of it. Hannah and Anna in their respective stories struggle with a variety of mental health issues as a result of this traumatic event. In both stories, Hannah/Anna has a similar way of dealing with their panic attacks outside of their homes: In The Woman in the Window, Anna counts: “One. Two. Three. Four.” [Finn, 2018: 271] and uses an umbrella; in Saving April, Hannah says to herself: “Get through the next ten seconds” [Denzil, 2016: 39, 75].

Other characters in both books often accuse Hannah/Anna of blurring fantasy and reality because of their condition/alcohol/or abusing/not taking pills. Hannah often refers to her “imagination taking over” (“It’s my imagination taking over again. It likes to do that” [Denzil, 2016: 33]), and Anna is accused of fantasising too: “A lot of stimulation…drinking too much, thinking too much” [Finn, 2018: 140, 193]. Anna is not supposed to take her pills for her mental condition with alcohol and it is through that action her real “problems” begin; and Hannah is supposed to take her pills, but she does not, and it is through that that her mental problems worsen. For Hannah in Saving April, it is the activity of reading murder/horror stories with blood in them that her clients sent her that trigger her panic attacks and worsen her condition; for Anna in The Woman in the Window, that trigger comes with watching film noir with murder mysteries and accidents with blood in them. 

Hannah and Anna both criticise their bodies in their respective narratives and have poor body-imagesthey compare their physical appearances to those of their neighbours, being jealous. “I’m jealous. …She’s [Laura] far prettier, far slimmer, and seems altogether nicer than I am…When was the last time a man looked at me like that?” [Denzil, 2016: 9], Hannah wonders in Saving April as she looks at her attractive neighbour who is being surrounded by men. “I study myself in the mirror…wrinkles like spokes around my eyes…I can’t remember the last time someone held my hand”, says Anna in The Woman in the Window [Finn, 2018: 22, 58].

– Apart from films/TV, another pastime of Hannah/Anna in their respective stories is looking out of their windows, spying on their neighbours across the street. They are engrossed in the lives of others and this provides drama to their simple lives. They both live in their fantasy world behind closed doors and their homes are their whole world. Hannah/Anna are also spying on more than one house at any particular time, and know what is going on in each of the houses across the street [Denzel, 2016: 4]/Finn, 2018: 3]: “Cavendish Street is more than the place I live, it’s my whole world” [Denzil, 2016: 5], and “My domain and its outposts: basement [garden, first, second, third, fourth floors] [Finn, 2018: 15-16]. Both Anna and Hannah experience similar feelings of curiosity and shame as they view the activities of their neighbours.

– Both Hannah and Anna in their respective stories only have one other close-in-proximity neighbour who they occasionally talk to: Hannah in Saving April has a neighbour with whom she shares her garden – old woman Edith, and Anna in The Woman in the Window has a tenant – young and handsome David.

Edith = Mrs Wasserman

Both thrillers have the character of the “oldest resident” on the street who reminisces about past times (their old neighbours), wants them to return and criticises the current state of affairs on their street. Mrs Wasserman in The Woman in the Window has been living in that street “four decades and counting” and “resents the arrival of another yuppie clan” in what used to be “a real neighbourhood” [Finn, 2018: 27]. Similarly, in Saving April, there is Edith, Hannah’s neighbour who “lived [on their street] all her life” and mourns the loss of previous community on their street: “When George was alive…Before all those foreigners moved in…I never used to lock my door…I knew everyone on the street by name” [Denzil, 2016: 5].

Mason Family = Russell Family

– At the beginning of both books, new neighbours arrive and settle into houses near Anna/Hannah’s houses, providing her with the best view of that house. In both stories, the family that arrives (Russells and Masons respectively) consists of a husband (Matt/Alistair), a wife (Laura/Jane) and their teenaged child (April/Ethan). In The Woman in the Window, Russells move into the house number 207, whereas in Saving April, Masons move into the house under the number 72! Anna and Hannah in their respective stories see through the window the new family unpacking. “I can make out…a tall boy, ferrying boxes to the front door “[Finn, 2018: 11]; and “Box after box is taken through the doorway” [Denzil, 2016: 8].

House-warming gifts: the new family Masons in Saving April receive a casserole dish from Edith, and Ethan Russell from The Woman in the Window gives Anna a candle as a new token of friendship from his mother, even though it is his family that is new on the street.

Hannah/Anna in their respective stories becomes obsessed with this new family across the street – Masons and Russells respectively – and watches them through her window daily. Hannah/Anna becomes jealous of the new family across the street, hinting at their own traumatic past: “She is so young, so beautiful and everything I could have had” [Denzil, 2016: 40], thinks Hannah while watching April, and “One house, one door away, there is a family I had” [Finn, 2018: 93], thinks Anna while watching the Russells.

– Both Hannah and Anna in their respective thrillers are involved extensively in “social media sites” spying, trying to find out more about Masons/Russells For example, the main characters have recourse to Tinder/Facebook to find more about Russells/Masons [Denzil, 2016: 61]. At some point someone in both thrillers pretends online to be someone that they are not: Ethan pretends to be GrannyLizzie online to know more about Anna (which is part of the twist), and Hannah pretends to be a seventeen girl online to get closer to Matt and find out who he really is.

The first contact between the new neighbouring family and Anna/Hannah in their respective stories happens through the child of the new family (in Saving April, April, the daughter of the Masons, first waves to Hannah through the window, and in The Woman in the Window, Ethan, the boy of the Russells, visit Anna to give her the candle).

Matt Mason = Alistair Russell

– Both Matt and Alistair (husbands in the new family that moved across the street to Hannah/Anna) share similar/identical physical and personality characteristics. Alistair in The Woman in the Window is described as “big and broad” [Finn, 2018: 21], and Matt in Saving April has a “muscular chest…being too wide, too bulgy” [Denzil, 2016: 10]. Also, while Alistair is described as “difficult” and controlling” in The Woman in the Window [2018: 101], the same could be said of Matt in Saving April, who is perceived to be very controlling and abusive (has a temper when his wife Laura comes home later than usual and she is afraid of his temper).

Laura/Jane then, at some point, share with Hannah/Anna their concerns about their husbands. Incidentally, both men in the stories end up unemployed. Matt was practically unemployed in Saving April (having no fitness clients), and Anna later discovers that Alistair left his employment.

Danger is thought to come from the husbandMatt/Alistair in both stories – both Hannah/Anna in Saving April/The Woman in the Window develop hostile feelings towards the husband of the new family and consider them to be abusive. He must have “pretty ferocious temper” [Finn, 2018: 140], thinks Anna. “I am immediately intimated by Matt, by the fury in his voice, and the way he eats up the room with his presence” [Denzil, 2016: 23], Hannah thinks. In both stories, Anna/Hannah also makes inquires into the background of the husband – Matt/Alistair – Hannah searches Matt’s Facebook profile and befriends him to know more about him; and Anna calls Alistair’s previous work assistant and makes inquires about his private life.

Laura Mason = Jane Russell

– Both Laura and Jane (wives in the new family that moved across the street to Hannah/Anna) in Saving April/The Woman in the Window respectively also share similar physical and personality characteristics. They are both portrayed as attractive women. Jane has a “wasp waist” [Finn, 2018: 30], being “a ripe woman” with “full hips and lips…mellow skill and gas-jet blue eyes” [Fin, 2018: 64], while Laura in Saving April is described as “petite” [Denzil, 2016] and instantly attracts men who are there to help her move her furniture. Hannah/Anna in their stories seem to be complete opposites of Laura/Jane. While Laura/Jane are successful women with husbands and daughters, Anna/Hannah are single and feel “unattractive”.

– Both Laura and Jane also come across as very friendly and rather professional, and they both have a strenuous relationship with their husbands – Matt and Alistair respectively.

Hannah/Anna becomes friends with Laura/Jane through Laura/Jane attempts. In Saving April, Laura tries to become friends with Hannah, and Jane becomes friendly with Anna and wants to make friends with her when she (allegedly) sends to Hannah a candle through her son.

April Mason = Ethan Russell

Similar to other characters, April and Ethan (the only child of the couple Masons/Russells) share many similar characteristics. Both are teenagers (April is thirteen/Ethan is sixteen), who come across as serious and loners. They are also both described as being beautiful. April is described as “pretty…with a serious face” [Denzil. 2016: 11]. Similarly, Ethan is implied to be a handsome teenager with calm expression: “very nice-looking” [Finn, 2018: 66]. Incidentally, in both thrillers, the main character says to herself when watching April/Ethan that when the teenagers grow up they will be even more attractive. In Saving April, the narrator thinks: “She will grow up to be a stunner, with that black hair and peach skin” [Denzil, 2016: 79]. In The Woman in the Window, the narrator thinks of Ethan: “He’s going to be a handsome man, I realise, in just a few years” [Finn, 2018: 46]. Both of these children ask for help from Hannah/Anna in their respective stories in some way: April by holding up the sign “HELP” and screaming in public, and Ethan – implicitly.

The waving by the child through the window to Anna/Hannah in Saving April/The Woman in the Window: Both books have numerous instances where Ethan/April, the child of the couple Russells/Masons, waves to the main character through the window/spots the main character spying, and at times the main character waves back. “I flick a glance upstairs, to Ethan’s bedroom…After a moment, he raises one hand. Waves at me” [Finn, 2018: 374]; In Saving April, there is this passage: “I want to move away from the window but my feet stay planted…Slowly, the girl raises one hand and waves at me. I back away from the window…” [Denzil, 2016: 11] or “She stands there in patterned pyjamas and long black hair, and waves at me. After a brief hesitation, I wave back” [Denzil, 2016: 24].

– Both Hannah and Anna in their respective thrillers begin to feel protective towards the child (April/Ethan) of the new couple (Masons/Russells) and want to protect/save her/him (from the “dysfunctional” family). “I’ m concerned for Jane, naturally. And especially for Ethan” [Finn, 2018: 140], says Anna. “I feel protective” [Denzil, 2016: 11], says Hannah when considering April.

Plot Points Similarities

Laura/Jane Visits Hannah/Anna Alone

There is a chapter in both Saving April and The Woman in the Window where Laura/Jane (Katie) visits Hannah/Anna alone in her home, and when they come to visit, they do so without their husbands knowing and bring with them a bottle of white wine as a gift! – in Saving April, Laura brings to Hannah Sauvignon Blanc [2016: 102], and in The Woman in the Window, when Jane (Katie) visits, she gifts to Anna a bottle of Riesling [2018: 95]. When they come for a visit, both Laura/Jane get “confident” [2016: 103] and “playful” [2018: 98] in Hannah/Anna’s home and lead the discussion. Laura/Jane and Hannah/Anna get drunk in their respective stories, share their family/personal secrets with one another and play some game (drawing/chess/photography). Both of these encounters between women start the new chapters with almost exactly the same ringing of the bell. 

Hannah/Anna Follows Matt/Jane to a Pub/Coffee-Shop

There is a chapter in both Saving April and The Woman in the Window where Hannah/Anna follows the husband/wife in the couple they are obsessed with (Masons/Russells) to a pub/coffee shop. In Saving April, despite her agoraphobia, Hannah covertly follows Matt Mason to a local pub where she spies on him (and where Matt meets a seventeen year old girl-student). Hannah feels uncomfortable there and has a socially-awkward encounter with a bartender when she orders a drink. Similarly, despite her agoraphobia, Anna in The Woman in the Window, follows Jane to her local coffee shop with the purpose to spy on Jane. Anna feels uncomfortable there and has a socially-awkward encounter with a barista who sells her coffee when she orders it.

Hannah/Anna Sees the Sign of Criminality in Masons/Russells’ Home and Reports it to the Police

Hannah/Anna in their respective stories see or hear the signs asking for help from the house of their neighbours – Masons/Russells respectively. Hannah in Saving April hears the fighting of the couple, sees April holding up the sign that says “HELP” and then April shows Hannah bruises on her arm; while Anna in The Woman in the Window hears a scream and then, in another chapter, thinks that she sees a woman being stabbed in the Russells’ home. While Anna immediately thinks “Is he attacking her?”[Finn, 2018: 126], Hannah thinks: “he’s hurting her” [Denzil, 2016: 80], and both do not know what to do.

The scream: Both Anna and Hannah in their respective stories become unsettled after they hear an unexpected scream from the new family (home) – Russells/Masons: Hannah becomes unsettled when April screams on the street, signalling a cry for help [2016: 40]; and Anna is taken aback when she hears a scream coming from Russell’s home, signalling a cry of help [2018: 127].

In both books, then, the main character (Hannah/Anna) reports the family to the police after they believe they see the suspicious/criminal activity in the neighbouring house that they so obsessed with. Their phone conversations to the police are also similar [Finn, 2018: 160, Denzil, 2016: 90].

The Police Do Not Believe Hannah/Anna and Hannah/Anna Are Reprimanded

When the police arrive to Anna/Hannah’s houses, they do not believe her version of events/ that she saw signs of some criminal/suspicious activity because she is an unreliable witness and may have hallucinated or misunderstood what she saw because of her tendency to fantasise/seek attention, or because she suffers from mental health problems and was possibly drunk at the time. Both police officers in their respective stories have been first at Russells/Masons’ homes (before talking to Anna/Hannah) [2016: 98] and [2018: 176] and those reassured the police that nothing suspicious was happening. Both police officers in their respective stories also specifically inquire whether Anna/Hannah has been drinking [2016: 98] and [2018: 176].

Later, it is precisely through the questioning of Anna/Hannah by the police that the real truth comes to light and Anna/Hannah acknowledges her grief [2016: 153], especially truth about Hannah/Anna’s past and that she lost her family in a driving accident in both stories [see the ending similarities below].

Further similarity is that, in both stories, some time after the visit from the police, Russells/Masons/the police, tells Anna/Hannah to stop calling them/watching them through her window.

Hannah/Anna Is Attacked by Matt/Alistair and Thinks There Has Been an Intruder in Her House

– Yet another similarity is that Hannah/Anna has a violent physical confrontation with Matt/Alistair (the father of April/Ethan) at some point when Matt/Alistair arrives alone to visit Hanna/Anna. This confrontation leaves physical marks on Hannah/Anna [Finn, 2018: 385, Denzil, 2018: 148]. Both Matt and Alistair in their respective stories threaten Hannah/Anna and tell her that she is delusional and should mind her own business.

– At some point in the story, Anna in The Woman in the Window ends up in a hospital, while Hannah in Saving April ends up in a police cell. Also, at some point in both thrillers, the main narrator (Hannah/Anna) goes away and leaves her door open.

Hannah/Anna in Saving April and The Woman in the Window respectively thinks at some point in their stories that an intruder has been in her home without her knowing and she did not notice if first time: In The Woman in the Window, Anna thinks someone has been inside her house at night and photographed her asleep in secrecy. She showed that photo to everyone. Similarly, in Saving April, Hannah thinks someone has been in her house when she was not there and there are signs left of it – there is this sentence: “whoever delivered this [letter] did it by hand, the’re been at my house” [Denzil, 2016: 174]. This unsettles the main character in both thrillers.

Also, after one incident, both houses (Masons/Russells) in their respective stories draw their shutters, shutting out Hannah/Anna from their lives/their stalking.

Ending Similarities

Similarities That Relate to April/Ethan and the Masons/Russells

It transpires towards the end of both Saving April and The Woman in the Window that the child of the Masons/Russells – April/Ethan were, in fact, adopted by the couple. Both April and Ethan in their respective stories initially come from “dysfunctional” families where their biological parents (especially mother) did not care for them/mistreated them/abused them – both children lament that their parents were never around them and they were disappointed with them. April says in Denzil’s story: “My biological parents were liars…They promised me that they wouldn’t hurt me again. But they lied, because I’d come home from school, and Mum would be drunk….Then she’d bring her men over and I’d see her cheating on my dad…[Denzil, 2016: 213]. The same story is with Ethan from Finn’s story: “Katie [his biological mother] was a druggie…I remember her boyfriends kicking the shit out of me…[Finn, 2018: 419]. The result is that both April and Ethan in their stories grew up to be troubled children who have experienced a lot of hardship in their former lives and now find it difficult to build their normal lives in their new families in the new neighbourhood.

In both Saving April and The Woman in the Window, April/Ethan ends up to be the “criminal mastermind” behind many actions. It becomes known that they are, in fact, manipulative, disturbed and psychopathic.

Both adopted children (Ethan/April in their stories) wanted revenge on their biological parents for mistreating them during their childhood. At some point, both April and Ethan in their stories kill their biological parents. April “burned” her parents [2016: 214] and Ethan stabbed his biological mother Katie [2018: 418].

Similarities That Relate to Laura/Hannah

Hannah and Anna in Denzil and Finn stories respectively have been in a driving accident in the past (where they have been at the wheel in bad weather condition) and the result of this accident was that they lost their husbands and their little daughters. As a result, Hannah/Anna suffered from guilt and experienced accident flashbacks. Prior to this accident, both Anna and Hannah in their respective stories also had difficult relationship with their partners and were almost near-separation from them at the time of the misfortune.

Both Hannah and Anna in their respective story either committed adultery in relation to their husbands or were victims of marital infidelity on the part of their husbands. This secret came to light in both stories just before the car accident or leading up to it. In Saving April, Hannah’s husband Stu was found to have an affair just before the tragic accident that took his and their daughter’s life. In The Woman in the Window, Anna was found by her husband to have an affair with Wesley just before the accident that took her partner and their daughter. Moreover, both Wesley and Stu (the people concerned in the affair) wanted to put that affair behind them in the story and say something to that effect to their other halves [2018: 347, 2016: 158].

This is not the only “adultery theme” similarity between the two books. One of Edith/April’s parents in the story is either accused of having an affair or they have an extramarital affair. In Saving April, Matt, April’s parent, is seemingly having an affair with his fitness client, an attractive female student (though this is unconfirmed), and David, Anna’s tenant, later has an affair with the biological mother of Ethan – Katie.

Ending Plot Points Similarities

In both The Woman in the Window and in Saving April, the main character (Anna/Hannah) has the final physical and violent confrontation with April/Ethan (“the teenaged child” that they were meant to protect). In both stories, during this physical confrontation/fight, there are attempts made by Hannah/Anna to run away, and, then, Hannah/Anna tries to calm down or stop April/Ethan from hurting her by talking about either love or forgiveness – They loved you…You deserve love”, says Anna to Ethan [Finn, 2018: 427], and “I forgive you” [Denzil, 2016: 226], says Hannah to April. This talk of Anna/Hannah in both stories makes April/Ethan (the “evil” child) to pause/hesitate, and this gives an opportunity for Hannah/Anna to escape or retaliate because both Ethan and April in their stories want to kill Anna/Hannah. Both children in their respective stories thought they could outwit adults – but they could not.

In the end, April tries to kill her father Matt and Ethan kills his mother. The children explain their actions in a similar way – Ethan in The Woman in the Window says that his mother let him be abused [see the explanation above], and April in Saving April says: “he’s steroid taking, cheating, wife-beater” [Denzil, 2016: 237], by way of an explanation for her attempt to kill Matt.

Near the end of the story, the main characters realise that they were wrong about the main source of evil – it was not the husbands of Laura/Jane, but the child. One of the parents of Ethan/April comes to rescue the main character at some point and try to protect her from their child. Anna in The Woman in the Window realises that Alistair had been trying to protect her from Ethan, not the other way around. Hannah in Saving April also realises that Laura is trying to protect her from April.

Both Anna and Hannah in their respective stories recognise their condition and mistakes/come to terms with their trauma, which enables them to live peacefully from now on (this is implied). That is the conclusion of both thrillers. In both Saving April and The Woman in the Window, light, sun and vegetation are mentioned/emphasised to signal the main character’s new life and her overcoming of her past – “This is your garden. In the sunshine” and “now the midday sun floats in an aching-blue sky” [Finn, 2018: 443, 446]; the same sunny and hopeful atmosphere is in Saving April:The windows are down, my car smells like flowers, and the sun warms my skin” [Denzil, 2016: 233].

Both of the main characters (Anna/Hannah) reach the same conclusions about the importance of their lives and overcoming their depression/grief. Even though Finn wrote it in different words, the wording, its placement in the next, not to mention the ideas, are too similar, as it is evident by these sentences to be compared – Denzil: “I saved myselfI’ve finally woken up from the nightmare that kept me confined to my house” [2016: 238], says Hannah; and Finn – “I was fighting for my life. So I must not want to die….I’ve waited to rejoin the world. Now is the time [2018: 446].

Writing Style and Other Details Similarities

Moreover, the writing style of both novels is similar, and the narration is also from the point of view of Hannah/Anna, who are both unreliable (although in Saving April, April and Laura also have their say). The language of the main characters in both stories can be described as “sometimes sarcastic” as they comment on their surroundings and modern life.

– There are numerous sentences that are similar and that often conclude chapters/paragraphs in both books. For example, in Denzil’s book: “In frustration, I throw the glass at my fireplace, letting out a scream as the glass smashes” [Denzil, 2016: 78] and, in Finn’s book: “My hand creeps to my glass.…Then I throw…the thing against the wall and scream louder than I’ve ever screamed in my life” [Finn, 2018: 335].

– When the police are in Hannah/Anna’s home for the first time, there are also similar sentences: “She [Police Officer] sounded as though she was talking to a child” [Denzil, 2016: 95], and “I shift in my seat. I feel like a naughty child”, when the police questions Anna [Finn, 2018: 187]; and “My vision starts to blur” [Denzil, 2016: 154] and ”All I see is darkness” [Finn, 2018: 329], when the main characters are questioned by the police. When the police try to calm Hannah/Anna after her panic attack, there are also similar sentences: “I long for home where it’s safe” [Denzil, 2016: 154-155] and “You wanted someplace safe” [Finn, 2018: 330].

– Moreover, chapters in both books sometimes start with the hangover of the main character, as she wakes up: “The next morning, I have the hangover feeling from not getting enough sleep” [Denzil, 2016: 66]. “I wake up with…a hard-earned hangover” [Finn, 2018: 111].

Conclusion

What about A. J. Finn himself and the circumstances of The Woman in the Window publication? It so happens that the publisher who finally published The Woman in the Window is the same one who employed Finn for some years as a senior editor within their organisation – William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins. As Ian Parker’s article in The New Yorker states, when choosing what manuscript to publish, editors at William Morrow knew that The Woman in the Window was written by “someone who once worked in a senior position” at William Morrow. There’s no smoke without fire and there are also serious allegations that Finn or Dan Mallory (the same person) is a serial liar who used to fabricate his personal history (once claiming falsely that he has two PhDs (he does not), that he has had a brain tumour (he never had) and that one of his family members died (they did not)). 

Aside from the author himself, whose personally history is morally shaky and who has already proven to disregard others (lie to them) to promote himself, the conclusion is that I have never in my whole life read two books that are as similar as Finn’s The Woman in the Window and Denzil’s Saving April. I did not think it was possible to produce two books that are so similar to each other, and it seems that this is the same story written in different words and paragraphs.

Sarah A. Denzil never pursued legal action against A. J. Finn, even though, in my opinion, the extent, the degree and the nature of the similarities are shocking. “Ideas are not copyrightable”, but there are the writers’ code of ethics and the basic moral principle of respecting other writers’ creativity, ideas and style. The case above is not merely one where there are broad similarities, such as an unreliable narrator or voyeurism through windows, but nuanced and detailed similarities too – that are too many, including between all/most of the characters, across all/most of the plot points and across many details; also, what one book implies – another often explicitly states, and vice versa, which all leads to one conclusion – A. J. Finn “plagiarised” Sarah A. Denzil’s thriller Saving April (but did not even make a good job of covering his tracks properly, including leaving similar house numbers, main character names and at times virtually the same sentences).

What do you think about the similarities listed above? Have you read either/both of these thrillers? Do you agree with my conclusion?

40 thoughts on “Did A. J. Finn (“The Woman in the Window” (2018)) plagiarise Sarah A. Denzil’s thriller “Saving April” (2016)?

  1. Gosh! I must say almost all contemporary “thrillers” feel like the same book to me, and I avoided this one – The Woman in the Window – because it sounded like a total rip-off of the Hitchcock film. But your list of close, almost identical, similarities convinces me this one takes it even further than all the many, many books that tout themselves in their blurbs as being “just like Agatha Christie”, “the new Gone Girl”, etc. Gone are the days when authors* aspired to be original – now they simply want to imitate whatever sells…

    *Some authors, of course – some do still try hard to be original and it must gall them utterly to see a book like this have so much success…

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    1. Yes, you have not missed anything if you have not read The Woman in the Window and I agree that the imitation of “whatever sells” nowadays is out of control – the number of times we read “This is just like Agatha Christie”, right?, and Agatha Christie is still the one that sells and is read. I will take any of her books over any modern thriller nowadays.

      The most shocking and unforgivable thing about the similarities above is not the similarities in tropes and ideas – I can close my eyes on that – an author can take ideas and then more and more and even more ideas from some other book, but when you have similarities in precise details and whole sentences over and over again? This is unbelievable. The Russells and Masons house numbers have the same numbers in them, couldn’t Finn think up his own number? 34 or 340? It is not that difficult, surely. The same thing with white wine in above similarities – it is the taking of all of the miniature similarities together that points to this case being so wrong.

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    1. Thanks for reading, and thank you for this! – I did not know about any of them – I will have to look into them – I am so interested in these issues.

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  2. Wow. I recently finished The Woman in the Window so the story is fresh on my mind. I was aware of the controversy about the author but didn’t know about the plagiarism issue. The similarities are beyond coincidental. Your analysis is outstanding💜

    FYI, the movie stars Amy Adams in the lead role along with Julianna Moore.

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    1. Thank you! That’s good to hear. I love Amy Adams. I have seen her recently in Arrival and enjoyed it.

      And, just to add, as I said above too, the similarities in tropes and ideas are just the tip of the iceberg – Finn seems to have rewritten whole paragraphs and sentences in Denzil’s book. I am scared to think what would become if his work were to go through a plagiarism software programme and what would the score of that because it compares every word and its position in the book 🙂

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  3. It certainly sounds like the similarities are too numerous to be a coincidence. I wonder why other people haven’t pointed that out? Also, it’s strange that Finn barely changed the name of the protagonist, etc. – if you are going to steal from another novel, at least you should make an effort to do it skilfully. 😉 Interesting, and very thorough, comparison of the two books!

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    1. Thank you! I am glad you enjoyed reading the comparison. Well, when The Woman in the Window was first published, some of those who read Denzil’s book immediately noticed the similarities, but that was an online community and there are a couple of blogs that did only a very basic comparison of these books without going into detailed similarities – this issue was never the centre of any major publication as far as I know.

      As for Finn stealing so unskilfully from Denzil, yes, I also agree with you, but then, I read something about Finn (Mallory) and in reputable journals too like The New Yorker, and it seems all to accord with his character. The fact that he did not change the details between the novels also shows his brassiness (of which, I take it, he is proud). It is as though by keeping her details he was almost mocking Denzil’s book too and wanted to show exactly what he could get away with – and nobody – few – would notice and those who would notice – obviously (as he thought) (sadly, in my opinion) – would not care.

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  4. Interesting post – I read Woman in the Window first without knowing anything about controversies and then found out afterwards. It’s really disturbing that his book is so similar and that in the end it comes down to which author has the more influence etc.

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    1. Yes, exactly disturbing. Any other author in different circumstances would have mentioned his inspiration or source at least, but obviously he could not do that because he took so much.

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  5. I have not read Denzil’s book, but while I was reading Finn’s I KNEW that I had read this story before. But I’m sure I read the similar story many years earlier, probably 10 or more years ago (so it wasn’t Saving April). I thought it might have been something by Joy Fielding, whose books I read a lot of for a while. But in checking all of Fielding’s books that I have a record of having read, I didn’t find anything similar. But I still know I’ve read the same story, I just can’t find it. But the crucial points of the woman watching the family across the street, seeing what she thinks is a murder there, then finding out how she has been tricked are all there. I wonder if anyone else has any idea of what that other book, from probably 10-25 years ago, might be. Thanks for this informative analysis. I definitely agree with your conclusions.

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    1. Thanks for reading and agreeing! It is interesting that you read a similar-premised book in the past. I will not be surprised that there are other books with a similar plot because it does sound intriguing. I wonder what your book was too especially since it was published that many years ago now and predates Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. I also would not have made this post if there were only trope/plot points similarities, I was just shocked by so many small details/sentences and precise scenes similarities too.

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  6. I haven’t read either book, but I think you’ve made a very strong case that The Woman in the Window is plagiarized from Saving April. It would be interesting to run The Woman in the Window through TurnItIn to see what the similarity score is.

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  7. It looks like Finn was daring someone, anyone really, to spot his plagiarism. The same or nearly the same names or numbers, or even sentences? Come on. I haven’t read either of the books, but you make a very strong case that The Woman in the Window is just a blatant rip-off of Saving April.

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  8. I haven’t read either book, though I have heard of Finn’s novel. I’m really curious to read both novels and see if I come to the same conclusion as you. I feel like in the writing community there are a lot of books inspired by other books, but these two books share way too many similarities for it to be just inspired by. It’s a pity that some authors get away with this, while lesser known authors with original works get forgotten so quickly.

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    1. I will be curious to know your conclusion when you read the two! No one should get away with something like this.

      Actually, given Finn (Mallory)’s previous reputation, all publishers that gathered initially to bid for his novel to publish it dropped out of the process and no longer wanted to be part of Finn’s writer’s journey once they got the news that the author – Finn is, in fact, Mallory. Only Finn’s ex-employer William Morrow published The Woman in the Window. Even the prospect of making so much money did not persuade other publishers to risk their reputation – William Morrow was the only one with nothing to lose since it was and will always remain Finn’s ex-employer. I think these circumstances speak volumes.

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  9. I am so intrigued by this, and am bookmarking your post to read the spoiler section after I pick up The Woman in the Window… I have a borrowed copy on hand and have been so curious about whether it’s any “good” or not, especially after I read that New Yorker piece about Finn/Mallory’s questionable behavior. That article was practically a thriller in itself. It’s wild and disheartening to think that an author could potentially get away with so much. I thought there was some talk about him having a second book in the works but I haven’t heard anything concrete about it recently. I’d be very curious to see where his career goes from here after he’s seen such success (a movie deal!) but also such backlash.

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    1. I will certainly be very interested in your opinion once you read The Woman in the Window! That article about Finn was a thriller, I agree. I also read somewhere about his second book (was it in that initial The New Yorker article, I am not sure). Anyway, nothing even in that article prepared me for the shock of my comparison between Saving April and The Woman in the Window.

      To be completely frank – Finn could have been Denzil’s creative editor with a free hand to do as he pleases with her book (without her giving assent or knowing about it) because what Finn essentially did with Denzil’s book is he edited it, took something from it, added something to it – elaborated on something – rewrote some sentences and paragraphs (“made it better”) and here we go – Finn’s “original masterpiece that now sold millions of copies”. It is as though Finn already had rights to Denzil’s novel the way film producers acquire rights to make a film from a book – it is really shocking because Finn’s book still remains Denzil’s story, her characters, her whole sentences can be discerned. Finn (Mallory) really does not have a shred of decency, integrity, or respect for other’s work in his bones.

      The paradox is that, with his bestseller out and taking over the world, he remains an editor and a re-writer, and not a writer.

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      1. Thanks! I really should try to get to it soon, since I’m holding onto a borrowed copy and the movie isn’t too far out. It could have been in the New Yorker article that a second book was mentioned, perhaps!

        That is a good point, it really draws into question how copyrights apply and where the line is drawn between originality and appropriation when two pieces of art are undeniably similar. I completely agree with your stance on Finn/Mallory’s personal character, and if I hadn’t been able to borrow a copy of his book I likely wouldn’t have read it because that’s not the sort of behavior I like to support by purchasing the author’s work. When I post my review I’ll definitely want to link the New Yorker article (and this post!) and touch on the issues I have with the book outside of its content alone. There is a time when the art should not be separated from the artist, I think.

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  10. I had a feeling the premise of The Woman in the Window was familiar, maybe because I’d watched Hitchcock’s Rear Window before, but the similarities you presented with Denzil’s book is unbelievable and astonishing. If she were to pursue legal action, does Denzil have enough grounds to sue him? I feel it might be difficult to do so, given that they might just say that the mystery genre operates on these sorts of tropes anyway.

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    1. Well, Denzil just sought some preliminary legal advice and they told her to forget about it – because the similarities are allegedly “too thin” and the trope is common, and ideas are not copyrightable – the usual stuff they say in these cases.

      And, yes, that’s precisely what I thought before I started to compare the two books – I thought – “oh, these are just similarities between tropes and ideas – Finn took many ideas from Denzil – too many, but that’s it” – but THEN – I found almost identical PRECISE DETAILS (many small details – we are not talking about big themes anymore), SENTENCES and WHOLE PARAGRAPHS – so similar they were hardly been rewritten at all. I mean – one thing is to take ideas, but another is to rewrite sentences, or am I wrong? I mean, I have barely made any comparison at all above – I can probably go on and on – I just did not have that much time to compare the two books even more thoroughly – there are probably many more examples. In my opinion – if the two books above are not plagiarism, plagiarism does not exist unless you copy something word by word without missing any word out or adding absolutely anything. Heck, anyone can then rewrite Harry Potter and sell it anew this way 🙂

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      1. Ohhh man. I didn’t read everything because you had tagged them as spoilers, but if ENTIRE sentences and paragraphs were lifted, then there should be no doubt that it’s plagiarism. I’m honestly shocked at the nerve of Finn/Mallory in the first place—that he did it and thought he could get away with it. I wonder why he isn’t as persecuted for this; The Woman in the Window still remains a huge bestseller.

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  11. My word, every time I thought I had come to the end of “similarities” (copies!) you listed more. I have not read Saving April, but I did enjoy The Woman In The Window when I read it. Now I will not be able to think of it in the same way, with even a scrap of respect for the author, shame on him! I’m so glad you pointed this out, and I wish there could be some compensation for the original author.

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    1. Thanks for reading! Yes, as I said in my previous post, I believe I would have spotted even more similarities if I delved even further into the two books, and you are right, taking some inspiration and even more inspiration, and even more – is fine, but taking THIS much and sometimes blatantly rewriting sentences – this is beyond shameful.

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  12. I would prefer to read Saving April any day than Woman in the Window even if it reads like a second draft to WITW . Unfortunately I have read WITW .With all the flak the author has been receiving and your latest post, I am put off by this one forever. So , I won’t be watching the movie when it finally gets released…

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  13. This is quite some case you’ve put together. It seems like the case for plagiarism is made. How very disappointing. Perhaps the earlier book would have been more successful if it had been written under a man’s name!

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  14. Very interesting, as the others above have commented. I like thrillers and had started listening to WITW a couple of years ago, actually finding it slow and dull and stopping before the half-way point. Being a movie buff, I did notice that one of his film references was incorrect, although at this time I can’t recall what it was–the wrong actor, an incorrect line or possibly an incorrect plot reference–something to that affect.

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    1. Thanks for the comment! Yes, The Woman in the Window is not as good as everyone claims it is, and I am not surprised that you found a mistake. Actually, now that I think about it, I did found one film reference there to be very odd – I wonder now if it was the same one you spotted!

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  15. This is a great write up and very interesting. I haven’t read either book so I’m only going on what’s written here. (Honestly, I’m kind of glad I read this summary instead of either book—they sound awful :)—so thank you!!)

    There seem to be /too many/ similarities, but some of them (e.g. white wine, or breaking glasses and screaming) are total clichés. It’s the combination of similar names/numbers AND plot similarities that feels so questionable to me. These books sound like a mess of common tropes too… I wonder how we should draw a line between two writers using a common formula of what’s easy to write or currently popular, and something closer to plagiarism.

    Even though I haven’t read either of these books, the story itself seems familiar like I’ve already read/seen a version of it. I can’t imagine how frustrating it would be to write a book and see something so similar to what you’ve written become more popular. Alternately, one of my biggest fears as a writer is somehow writing something too similar to a book that’s already been written. That said, the level of similarity here is shocking.

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    1. Thanks, and you are very right – many of the similarities are clichés and overused tropes, but it is the SUM of them which is shocking (and which points only to ONE conclusion) – there are way too many of them – excessively so. Even if you forget about all the details – I found similar sentences’ structures and voice and so forth – and these were also too many. The similarities are across ALL of the writer’s technique/style (whatever you call it) – from the voice and characters and details to precise sentences and language. It makes more sense to talk about what Finn did NOT copy than what he did.

      I’ll be totally honest here – you will never write a book that has as many similarities as these two (I barely scratched the surface above – I feel like I can go on and on listing them) – it is impossible – or it is like winning a lottery twice, really. What tropes, what clichés? The whole paragraphs and sentences were evidently rewritten – I wish I have now given more examples of that – believe me, I could have.

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      1. I definitely can’t think of two other books that are this similar. Even books that nod to the Classics are more distinct from their source material than this. E.g, I’ve heard Salman Rushdie say that The Golden House is a take on Don Quixote, but from the bit I’ve read (and various reviews), no one would confuse it for the original. Tributes, homages, and taking inspiration all seem to be very different than what happened here.

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  16. Thanks for this, Diana, very educational. So here’s an issue that we face in 2021; if you cheat, do you get to keep your prize? If you break the rules, and you get caught, what are the consequences? I get that there’s only a set number of stories, but the parallels your describe are ridiculous. There’s no effort to cover tracks, and it’s a disgrace to the good name of HarperCollins if they were happy to make money from what was an obvious scam. Or once you’ve got your book into the best-seller lists and a film deal, is that job done and you are thenceforth untouchable? In this case, it’s notable that Tracy Letts, who did the film adaptation, couldn’t make the script work after looking ‘in the weeds’. Cheats usually unravel, and in this case, it looks like everyone ended up worse off than they were before. Hopefully it’ll put off any other charactres who see this as a quick route to success.

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    1. Thanks very much for reading and commenting, and I completely agree with you. I am still to see the film, so I can’t comment on that, but as for the questions you posed, I think the sad truth is that the attitude of the majority is “I simply don’t care”. They see and read a good book which everyone seems to love so much and they hardly care to know more. And if they found out, most will probably go “so what?”. People remember best-sellers and advertising and marketing and success. They don’t follow up on many things after that. That is what the “cheating” authors all count on and they’re right. People also simply don’t have the time or the energy to dig deeper. It’s easy “not to know” what you are “not interested” to know, in other words.

      The problem here was that Sarah Denzil was essentially a “nobody” in the eyes of the broader publishing world and the reading public, and Finn, with his previous connections to the publishing industry and contacts, was “someone” who managed to use a slightly more sophisticated language than Denzil. He did “improve” and did “elaborate” somewhat on Denzil’s story, but I don’t think this should give an author an automatic licence. The similarities are so numerous and deep in their nature, details, writing style and words used that it is safe to say that Finn’s story is “an almost faithful adaptation” of Denzil’s work. What is amazing here is that The Woman in the Window is not just “some book”, but an international bestseller worth millions.

      I also notice how some authors are only too ready to acknowledge some inspiration in their publication ONLY if they took some general idea or outline, but as it is so evident in this case Finn HAD to deny knowing of Denzil’s existence because acknowledging or even mentioning her name will expose the SHEER EXTENT of his “borrowing”, which is frankly shocking.

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