In a Dark, Dark Wood, by Ruth Ware

>> Saturday, February 02, 2019

TITLE: In a Dark, Dark Wood
AUTHOR: Ruth Ware

PAGES: 308
PUBLISHER: Gallery / Scout Press

SETTING: Contemporary England
TYPE: Suspense/Thriller

In a dark, dark wood

Nora hasn't seen Clare for ten years. Not since Nora walked out of school one day and never went back.

There was a dark, dark house

Until, out of the blue, an invitation to Clare’s hen do arrives. Is this a chance for Nora to finally put her past behind her?

And in the dark, dark house there was a dark, dark room

But something goes wrong. Very wrong.

And in the dark, dark room....

Some things can’t stay secret forever.
When writer Nora Shore receives an invitation to Clare Cavendish's hen do, she's very surprised. She and Clare were best friends in secondary school. But Nora left that school at 16 under quite traumatic circumstances, and even though the trauma wasn't anything to do with Clare, the two haven't spoken since, for over 10 years.

Only Clare's bridesmaid Flo, who's organising the do, insists Clare would especially love to see Nora again, and fellow former classmate Nina is coming as well, so what's the harm? It's just a weekend, after all.

But we know from the first scene that something goes badly wrong during that harmless weekend, culminating in some sort of car accident that leaves Nora struggling to remember what happened. And the police sitting outside her room are muttering something about 'murder'...

Ruth Ware seems to be a bit of a polarising writer. Her books receive more 1- and 2-star reviews than usual on Goodreads, and those seem to be right at the top. People who dislike her books seem to really dislike them. Lots of complaints about her heroines being unlikeable or behaving in unlikeable, stupid ways. And to be fair, reading some of those reviews I do recognise some of those issues, particularly about some motivations in this book being not completely believable.

But you know what? I don't care. I loved this book. There's something about Ware's voice that pulls me in and makes me believe in her characters, even when they're not behaving particularly well or particularly cleverly. I care about what happens to them and I care about her plots and finding out what happened. I definitely did so here.

I loved the characters. Ware brings together a motley group of people at the hen do. In addition to quiet, antisocial Nora there's perfect Clare, with her perfect life, Flo, with her disturbingly intense adoration for Clare, privileged playwright Tom, supercool doctor Nina and mumsy Melanie. Many of them don't know each other, and the way the dynamics between them develop was fascinating and rang completely true. You can feel the tension ratcheting up, not helped by the isolated location and lack of phone signal.

But it's not just the main characters who are well-done. The minor ones, even the ones you see only for a short scene, feel like they have a full life outside of the book. I particularly wanted to know more about the detective investigating what happened, DC Lamarr.

I thought the structure worked great, as well. I'm not usually a fan of flashbacks, but cutting back from the events at the house to Nora in the hospital trying to figure out what happened increases the tension dramatically. It all hangs together really well.

It's not a perfect book. As I suggested earlier, some things require a bit of a suspension of disbelief, and it's not that hard to guess the broad shape of what happened. Still, to me, this was immensely enjoyable.

MY GRADE: A solid B+.


Darlynne 2 February 2019 at 21:55  

I read this! And the reason for my surprise is thinking, oh, Ruth Ware, I'd like to read one of her books. Apparently I already did. Also apparently my creeping-dread meter is very sensitive. I was uncomfortable the whole time, waiting for something awful to happen and it did. If I remember correctly, I was quite sad at the end.

I certainly can't dispute Ware's skills as a writer and am glad you loved it. Just not for me.

Barb in Maryland 3 February 2019 at 18:20  

Nice review--I'm intrigued. I quite enjoyed both Woman in Cabin 10 and Death of Mrs Westaway, so I'll have to track down this one.
She has a new one coming out later this year that looks totally creepy (in a good way), that appears to be a haunted house story--The Turn of the Key.

Rosario 4 February 2019 at 04:26  

Darlynne: Oh, yes, the sense of dread is palpable. I liked that, but I can totally understand how it could feel a bit much and uncomfortable.

Barb: Those are the 2 I've read as well. There's a 4th one out already, as well, The Lying Game (which seems to be just as polarising). I'm glad there's a new one being published, so I won't have to hoard The Lying Game!

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