by Bernie C. Byrnes
That somebody gets murdered in In a Dark Dark Wood is not a spoiler, it tells you so on the cover. What is gripping about this novel is who.
It’s clear from page one that Leonora (Nora) Shaw is not having a good weekend. Not surprising considering she is attending the hen party of her estranged best school friend (Clare), who is marrying Nora’s first love (James), neither of whom she has seen for the last ten years. Add to that a poisonous doctor (Nina), the obligatory GBF (Tom), a preoccupied new mum (Melanie) and the psychotic NBF (Flo), all locked in a house in the middle of nowhere playing party games, and you have a recipe for the worst weekend ever. Nora doesn’t want to go, she doesn’t want to stay and by the end of the book it’s pretty clear she definitely should not have gone in the first place, but then where would the fun be in that?
The book is a page-turner. A dark thriller set in a tense and brooding glass house on the edge of a remote wood. Delightfully dislikable characters populate this novel so by chapter 4 you are itching for one of these ghastly people to die.
Leonora is likable enough and you find yourself shouting at the book to tell her to get out while she still can. Like many a good suspense, you can pretty much guess what’s round the next corner so the pleasure is not in the surprise, but in the smug feeling of being right. Sure I’d worked out who the killer was a chapter before the protagonist did, but I wanted to see what happened when she worked it out.
The action moves at a cracking pace, switching between the suspense of what is to come and the horror of the gruesome aftermath as Nora struggles to piece together the disturbing events that have gone before.
This is an impressive study in schoolgirl bullying. All the romantic satisfactions of A Mill on the Floss with a touch of the twisted character studies of a Chuck Palahniuk (without the really gruesome bits) make for an entertaining read.
There’s nothing in In a Dark Dark Wood that will keep you awake at night, but you’ll certainly think twice before booking that school reunion in the Outer Hebrides.
Ruth Ware’s debut thriller is an attention-grabber. A solidly pleasing book.