Written by British novelist Ruth Ware, In a Dark, Dark Wood is a tale of a weekend hen party gone horribly wrong. A somewhat introverted writer named Leonora — or Nora, as she prefers to be called — lives a quiet life. That solitude is disrupted when Nora is invited by her old college buddy Clare Cavendish’s perky new friend, Flo, to Clare’s weekend bachelorette party at a secluded house in the woods. The only problem is, Nora hasn’t seen Clare in ten years, even since Clare began to see Nora’s old boyfriend, James. What is already an uncertain gathering devolves into chaos before Nora is knocked unconscious. Images of violence come back to our protagonist, who is bed-ridden in a hospital with amnesia. With her memory slowly coming back, Nora must fight to determine if she is the victim or the killer. Is Nora guarding a still-tender heartache? Or is someone determined to destroy her before the police can hone in on the truth?
In a Dark, Dark Wood was the first novel of Ruth Ware’s that I read. The back cover description did an excellent job of selling the mystery at the heart of Nora’s weekend getaway at Clare’s hen get-together. The story shifts between the past and present effortlessly, with Nora recovering in a hospital as she tries to piece together the horrific events that transpired within those woods.
Pacing and Character Development
Ware did an excellent job interweaving past and present. I most enjoyed how unreliable and confused Nora is as a narrator. It can be tricky to incorporate amnesia into a story’s central conflict, but Ware does so with finesse. There is plenty of tension and suspense in every chapter. Small clues are placed throughout the narrative, including a blank shotgun shell, that encourage the reader to do a fair bit of detective work.
As for the ensemble, I found just enough character development throughout the story. I most enjoyed Nora and Nina’s friendly banter, the kind that is the hallmark of any close friendship. Nina also brings some much-needed levity and hawk-like scrutiny to the whole cabin ordeal. Flo is tragically unhinged, a woman who hides behind a rosy smile and gracious demeanor, yet cannot do anything but try to please Clare. Then there’s Tom, the theater company snob with a fair bit of his own baggage and proclivity for cocaine and tequila. What’s the worst that could happen, right?
Without any spoilers, I will say that, once the big reveal happens, there is a fair bit of logic thrown out the window. The killer’s motives, while far-fetched, weren’t terribly outrageous to me. I saw that quite a few readers took to Amazon to denounce this novel’s final surprise, but I feel that the past and present collide well and force Nora to face her trauma and self-doubts head on. It certainly wasn’t as convoluted as the motives behind the murder in The Woman in Cabin 10. You can find my review of that book by Ruth Ware here.
Written in the same vein as Gillian Flynn and Agatha Christie, In a Dark, Dark Wood seamlessly weaves together suspense, murder, and an unreliable narrative to create a somewhat macabre tale of revenge and failed romance. It excels most when Ware focuses on the unsettling cabin and the secrets that its occupants hold. While not terrifying or even terribly unsettling, Nora’s journey is one with plenty of twists and turns.
🌟 🌟 🌟 out of 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟