In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware is a mystery/thriller that revolves around two friends, Nora and Clare, who haven’t seen or spoken to each other for ten years, since high school. They get together for Clare’s hen party (what the Brits call a bachelorette party). Nora doesn’t realize that Clare is marrying Nora’s high school sweetheart, until Nora gets to the party and things immediately become extremely awkward. Something goes terribly wrong at the party– which we learn in the first few pages– and Clare and Nora both end up in the hospital. The reasons why they are there becomes the crux of the story. During high school, something terrible happened that made Nora into a introvert who looks, not for love, but that “thing,” which is just hinted at for most of the book.
I think this book might suffer from the current literary climate — Gone Girl, Luckiest Girl Alive, Girl on the Train — all of which include big reveals and surprising twists. In a Dark, Dark Wood centers on the previously mentioned event from the past that is teased frequently in the first half of In a Dark, Dark Wood, and an event that opens the book that seems like it might be connected. These two things are fine and make sense when you get to them, but they are not huge reveals or twists. In a Dark, Dark Wood is shooting for a pretty good episode of Grantchester, rather than Gone Girl or Luckiest Girl Alive.
And me? I love a good drawing room mystery, so I enjoyed it. But it’s a diverting, fun read and that’s about it. I feel like maybe I’m critiquing the reviews at this point, but this felt more like the first book of a new series, than a stand-alone thriller, which I’m almost sure it is.
The characters are very close to being realistic, but are still interesting.
The narrator is Nora, who was unpopular in first grade, but became friends with Clare. and was one of the cool kids thereafter. Although it doesn’t seem like she felt like it. Clare was mean, but pretty and popular, and manipulated everyone around her into doing her bidding, while still seeming like a nice person. Ultimately, I feel like they were that way so the plot would work, rather than being interesting, three dimensional characters. It’s a close call though; I’m certain that the author could defend all her choices. But the bottom line is that the characters mostly make sense and there’s nothing too egregious where people go out of character. It’s more like the characters have quirks that are contrived to serve the plot. So not great, but the plot is fun enough to make that work.
I did not like the main character, Nora. Oh, sure, maybe she was realistic, but it’s so difficult for me to imagine this self-sufficient strong woman making all these incredibly dumb mistakes. She shouldn’t have gone to that dumb party! And who cares about your high school love ten years later?
Do you like mysteries involving long buried secrets and love? You’ll probably like this book. I did! Read on if you’ve read In a Dark, Dark Wood!
I can’t help but to read this as a first book from a talented writer who could have used a better editor. For instance, making Flo Clare’s sister would have solved a LOT of problems. Why does Clare hang out with this woman? Oh, sure, there’s precedent that Clare likes losers, but Flo really takes it too far. Flo seemed like a mental patient through the whole book.
Nora is so, so internal. I wish some of her thoughts had been translated as conversations with her friends.
For instance, Nina admitted to Nora that she suspected Nora briefly (who wouldn’t?) and apologized, but Nora kept mum about all the less-than-nice things she was thinking about Nina. Nora might have been a little more relatable if she had mentioned things like that to her friend.
Want to make Nora seem less crazy? Have her be in touch with Clare in a small way, pushed away, but spoken to in the last ten years. Then it would make a lot more sense when Nora shows up at the hen party.
The murder plot made zero sense as a murder plot, there were too many things that had to happen to have the guy end up dead. Way too many. They had to be scared enough to get a shotgun, scared enough to fire, accurate enough to hit what they were aiming at (I get it, they went skeet shooting, but still, terrified people often miss), James had to not hear everyone congregating in fear and shout out, “Hey, it’s me, Clare’s fiancé, the golden boy who will live forever!”
Beware Tylenol, this book warns!
Anyway, I liked it a lot, although there were some issues that I feel like a good editor could have helped with. Give it a read though!
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