In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

2 Mins read

With a tagline reading ‘Someone’s getting married, someone’s getting murdered’ on its cover, this debut novel by Ruth Ware is one of Harvill Secker’s big releases this summer. It’s a story of broken friendships, tense reunions and the sheer silliness of that social construct called the hen night, all set against a backdrop of an architecturally stunning cottage in a remote woodland location. It’s a concept crying out to be adapted for the screen.

Nora (short for Leonora, formerly known as Lee) is a reasonably successful writer living in London, who has cut most ties with her childhood friends. So she is somewhat surprised when she receives an invitation to Clare’s hen weekend. They were best friends back in school, but that was then and this is now. Although Nora’s initial reaction is to run a mile – and she is a committed runner, which turns out to be a critical element in the story – the one friend she has kept in touch with, Nina, convinces her that they will be all right if they go together.

But of course things aren’t all right. The small group of friends are only friends in that modern way – which means that actually they barely know each other. This makes things uncomfortable and tense in the claustrophobic goldfish bowl of a house. They start behaving oddly, and become irascible. You can cut the tension in the air with a knife. They engage in typical hen party activities like tequila shots with a game of ‘I’ve Never’, quizzes about the couple to be married and a few lines of coke. They also go clay-pigeon shooting and mess around with Ouija boards. All of the activities are organised by the very intense Flo, Clare’s new best friend, who wants everything to be perfect, but they just seem to bring out the worst in people.

Eventually, all that tension culminates in murder as we know from the chapters interspersed throughout the narrative in which we see Nora lying in hospital with injuries and temporary amnesia. Buy who gets killed and how? The author teases us throughout the book and there is some mounting tension particularly in the second half of the story. Yet, in spite of the red herrings she throws our way, the denouement is rather predictable.

The protagonists are all in their mid- to late-20s and seem a bit too young to be so successful professionally, and yet so bitter about missed opportunities when comparing themselves to others. They’d be much more realistic if they were all 10 years older. Maybe they’d had decade lopped off their ages to appeal to a younger audience – perhaps the author was advised to do so during the publishing process?

In spite of these reservations, In a Dark, Dark Wood is quite an entertaining read. Ruth Ware proves to be an author whose work is a bit like a bag of crisps – once you’ve opened it you’ve got to finish it. Her odd assortment of characters and readable, engaging style make it easy to gloss over the holes in the plot. There are lots of domestic noir-style psychological thrillers available now and this provides an additional twist in that it focuses on female friendships rather than on couples. Not the most original book I’ve read lately, but a pleasant enough holiday read. And it would look good as a TV drama.

In a Dark, Dark Wood is released on 30 June. You can read more about psychological thrillers here.

Harvill Secker

CFL Rating: 3 Stars

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