In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware (Scout Press, 2015)
Think Hitchcock. Think old-fashioned psychological thriller. Think good writing. If you have read and loved The Woman in Cabin 10, Ware's most recent novel, you will enjoy her first publication, In a Dark, Dark Wood.
Leonora Shaw, a crime writer, awakens, bruised and befuddled in a hospital bed. Frightened and confused, Nora tries desperately to recall the weird events of the last couple of days, in which she was the guest at a “hen party” for her former best friend, Clare Cavendish. Even more perplexing than her memory loss is the fact that a policeman is stationed outside her hospital room. Nora struggles to figure out if she is, in fact, the victim or the perpetrator of some crime that she cannot remember? As the bits and pieces of the weekend return to Nora's memory, she becomes increasingly alarmed and unsure if she does want to remember the specifics of what happened.
Leonora, or Nora as she is known currently, had been perplexed when she received an e-mail invitation to a “hen party” for her former best friend, Clare, from Clare's current best buddy, Flo Clay. Nora has not seen Clare for ten years, since Nora fled from home at age 16 after a horrible break-up with her childhood sweetheart, James. Upon leaving home Nora reinvented herself totally, but was never willing to open herself to another relationship.
However, intrigued by the invitation to the hen party, despite the fact that she has not been invited to the wedding, Nora decides+ to travel to Kielder Forest to join the other guests at a unique home called the Glass House, owned by the aunt of Flo Clay, the woman who has organized this most unusual weekend, After the guests have convened, each introduces him/herself in a Murder on the Orient Express procession of characters. Flo, who had replaced Nora as Clare's best friend at the university, clearly idolizes the cool and beautiful Clare, which is a little weird in itself. In fact, Flo is inexplicably desperate that this party be perfect for her gal-pal, which mystifies Nora as the weekend progresses. As the plot twists inside out, Flo seems to unravel with each glitch to her carefully conceived party plans, fearing that failure of each event designed by Clare, will spoil the weekend.
Nina da Souza, now a doctor, goes back to high school days with Clare and Nora. She bears resentment toward Clare for outing her as a lesbian in a cruel and untimely way, but she comes to honor her old friend at the hen party anyway. Tom Deauxina, a gay actor, is the only male invited to the bash, and the final guest, Melanie Blaine-Cho, a very recent Mommy, had been a housemate of Clare and Flo's in college. It is an odd assortment of guests, who have gathered in a dark, dark wood to celebrate Clare's impending nuptials.
The peculiar thing about this odd assortment of party goers is that none of them, including the bride, who, oddly, has left her rather large engagement ring home, feels particularly joyful in celebrating the impending wedding. Why has this particular group of people been brought together, Nora wonders? And when Nora learns the identity of the groom, she is even more perplexed as to why she has been invited for Clare is engaged to Nora's old beau, James.
Although the characters could have been sketched in more fully, In a Dark, Dark Wood is a quick and fun read, with a very twisted ending. This is the kind of novel that's great to throw in the beach bag and read on a sunny day. Or, better yet, read it late in the night with the wind howling and the branches of the trees scratching at your window. Either way In a Dark, Dark Wood is a strange and uncomfortable tale about the ramifications of mistakes made during adolescence.
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