“Nora hasn’t seen Clare for ten years. Not since the day Nora walked out of her old life and never looked back. Until, out of the blue, an invitation to Clare’s hen party arrives. A weekend in a remote cottage – the perfect opportunity for Nora to reconnect with her best friend, to put the past behind her. But something goes wrong. Very wrong. And as secrets and lies unravel, out in the dark, dark wood the past will finally catch up with Nora…”
I’m not going to lie – in fact I’m going to put it straight out there – and admit: I chose this purely based on cover. My partner gave me a WHSmiths voucher and I knew exactly what it would go on. I walked in, looked at the books on offer, and decided on In a Dark Dark Wood straight away (after having a quick fondle of all of them, of course). Not a decision I regret at all.
The book plunges us right in to the life of Nora (short for Leonora –novelists really do like bringing the archaic names back to life), who has just received an unexpected invite to the hen do of her former best friend. Not a wedding invite, mind – just to a catch-up weekend in the remote depths of Northumberland, and a geometric, modern cottage called The Glass House (FYI, what I think the book should actually have been called – it would have got a 10/10 vote if so). Nora isn’t sure whether to go – it’s been a decade since she talked to Clare – but after talking to another old friend, Nina, her curiosity is piqued and she decides to accept the invite extended by ‘Flo’ – Clare’s maid of honour, who is organising the getaway.
But soon she regrets not simply deleting the email once it arrives. Cooped up in an unsettling house in the depths of a tangled wood, in the company of Nina, the sharp-tongued playwright Tom, recent mother Melanie, the rather manic Flo, and Clare – the guest of honour, the bride-to-be, and someone Flo seems obsessed with (“Clare’s perfect, do you know what I mean? It’s easy to want that for yourself, and feel like imitation is the way to get it.”) Nora tries hard to gel with the group, but things start unravelling faster once she finds out that Clare’s husband-to-be is no less than her former boyfriend James; someone Nora was once very much in love with, and who dumped her by text years ago. Fast-forward Melanie leaving to be with her family, some mysterious footprints in the snow outside in spite of The Glass House’s isolated location, some alcohol and a ouija board, and everything suddenly takes a horrific turn for the worse. A break-in in the middle of the night disturbs everyone. Flo, whose aunt owns the house, is determined to defend it with a gun – (“It’s loaded with blanks”) – but the situation devolves even further when someone shoots at the intruder with what is clearly a real bullet. And the intruder isn’t even a real intruder – it’s someone they all know very well, and it’s someone who is now dying in the middle of the night, and in the middle of the woods.
The book flips between the group’s actions at the house and Nora being kept in at the hospital, interviewed by the police about what really happened that night. But with everyone who was there giving different testimonies, Nora’s memory loss and multiple injuries, and with more than one of them hovering on the brink of death, the truth is getting harder and harder to find… Who shot at the intruder, and who replaced the blanks in the gun with real bullets? Is it an unexpected series of events… or a perfectly executed crime?
In a Dark, Dark Wood keeps you guessing as everyone’s motives, actions and personalities come into question. Ruth Ware’s sizzling pace and dialogue hurries the story along (I read this in two short sittings and even hushed my partner when he dared to speak during the closing chapters) whilst her characterisations are a pitch-perfect mix of plausible innocence and possible guilt. Unreliable narrators are rife in fiction at the moment, but Ware has managed to achieve what even The Girl on the Train didn’t; genuine tension that lingered long after I closed the book, a true un-put-downable writing style, and a plot that kept me guessing until the real culprit came forward. Definitely one to have on your bookshelf, even if just for the beautiful cover.