- What: In a Dark, Dark Wood
- Who: Ruth Ware
- Pages: 308
- Genre: Mystery
- Published: 2015
- The lit: of 5 flames
…The creepy glass dwelling made someone crazy. Or maybe it was the mysterious past. Or the obsessive friendship. Or the sizzling sense of humor. Or the self-obsession. Or maybe even the unknown. Whatever it was, someone snapped in the middle of nowhere U.K., putting both the characters in this high-intensity novel, as well as its readers, on edge.
It’s no secret that the success of a mystery novel is its page-turning quality. You know the kind: the ones where your heart is practically beating out of your chest, and you know the feeling won’t subside until you reach the final page. Well, In a Dark, Dark Wood hits the mark with the hows and whys, and not to mention the where, becoming just as important as the who done what.
Nora Shaw is a bit of a loner, but that’s the way she likes it. As a single female in the U.K. who works from home as a crime writer, surprisingly, long runs are her escape. Long runs … alone. Her past doesn’t exactly haunt her, but it does explain why she’s lost contact with childhood BFF Claire Cavendish as well as her bewilderment at being invited to Claire’s bachelorette party after not speaking for over 10 years. (By the way, a “hen party” has more to do with partying like an animal than an actual farm.) Failing to find an excuse to decline the invitation, Nora reluctantly accepts, thankful that mutual friend, Nina, will be in attendance.
But the minute Nina and Nora start driving up the long drive to an exposed glass house situated in the forest, things seem off and start to go awry. There’s Claire’s maid of honor, Flo, who is a bit too attached to the bride as well as the paradox of absolute solidarity–even the landline doesn’t function properly–with the feeling of being completely vulnerable to the landscape’s stage.
“There was something strangely naked about it, like we were on a stage set, playing our parts to an audience of eyes out there in the wood.” — In a Dark, Dark Wood
And then you have the footprints from no one. After confrontations and a case of the ex, someone loses their life, and Nora starts to wonder why the police are pointing their fingers in her direction and if, perhaps, they’re not entirely wrong.
“There is no gray when you’re young. There’s only goodies and baddies, right and wrong. The rules are very clear–a playground morality of ethical lines drawn out like a netball pitch, with clear fouls and penalties.” — In a Dark, Dark Wood
A mystery novel’s lit-worthiness usually correlates directly to my level of anxiety. I read In a Dark, Dark Wood over the span of two flights. I’m sure I was probably a little on edge already from traveling; however, while working up to the crime about two-thirds through the book, my heart was pumping so fast that it caused me to whip my head around and glare at two kids kicking my seat. I nearly yelled at them, but I refrained.
On the return trip, for the first time in my life, I found myself wishing my flight hadn’t been so fast because I had 10 pages left. We’re not talking 10 pages that carefully wrap up the story with a bow on top. I mean 10 pages of learning who the culprit is.
In a Dark, Dark Wood gave me more than suspense though. Ruth Ware has a way of turning the most minute objects and actions into major plot twists and metaphors 100 pages later. A jacket left on a porch rail, an incorrect nickname (that you don’t even notice is wrong). Even Nora’s running plays a bigger role than just exemplifying her introversion.
“I am a runner. This is what I do–I run. but sometimes you can’t run anymore.” — In a Dark, Dark Wood
It’s these carefully planted devices that assisted in keeping me on edge and furiously flipping the pages. It wasn’t, like many reviewers suggested, because of feeling scared AF. My desire to know what happened and how outweighed any fright I might have been feeling. I didn’t agree with Kirkus Reviews, for example, which told me to “Read it on a dark and stormy night—with all the lights on.” (Not to mention, you cannot read without lights.) Not once did I get the feeling that some freaky shit was going down and that someone would bust in, or, in my case, attack me in row six, at any minute. The story line is what intrigued me the most.
USA Today‘s Charles Finch took some issues with how that story was presented though. Ruth Ware took the liberty of using Nora’s amnesia after the incident as a device to reach the climax, and Finch didn’t let her off easily for this decision. “When it’s [amnesia] presented straightforwardly, without any variation, it almost always seems cheap, little more than a convenient way to manufacture suspense,” he wrote in his review.
Maybe it’s not the most original tool in mystery writing, but did it keep me guessing? Did it keep a running monologue in my head of “Try harder to remember, you idiot!”? Did it have me feeling like a character, wishing I could retell the events of that weekend? You bet it did. Did I find myself wishing the story were told in some other way? Nahhh, Ruth Ware writes too elegantly for that. At least Finch agreed with me there. “A lot about it is excellent, from its intriguing premise to its fluid storytelling to its smooth, suggestive writing.”
I ultimately read In a Dark, Dark Wood over six hours. By my own volition, those were largely six uninterrupted hours because I had a mystery to piece together, dagnabit. And nothing or nobody–including two wild nuisances on a plane–was going to stop me.
“It was growing dark, and somehow the shadows made it feel as if all the trees had taken a collective step towards the house, edging in to shut out the sky.” — In a Dark, Dark Wood