After reading – and loving – The Woman In Cabin 10, I knew I had to go back and read the rest of Ruth Ware’s books. I decided the logical step was to go chronologically from now on, so first up was her debut, In a Dark, Dark Wood.
The story starts when Nora – short for Leonora – gets an unexpected invitation to a hen party (that’s bachelorette party those of us outside the UK). The trouble is, the bride-to-be is Nora’s ex-BFF, whom she hasn’t seen in a decade. Something drove them apart all those years ago, though we readers don’t quite know what it was for a while. So why is Clare inviting Nora to her party out of the blue? Nora reluctantly agrees to go – partially because her friend Nina will also be there – and they’re part of the small group of six who will celebrate that weekend.
The hen party is held in a secluded glass house up north in the woods. It’s November, and already snow is falling. This proves to be the perfect setting for this creepy novel. Upon arriving at the glass house, one of the guests comments that, with the excess exposure from the bare windows, it feels like they’re on a stage for all in the forest to watch. That’s certainly an unnerving thought, because who knows who is out there in the woods, spying?
With the group of six all assembled, In a Dark, Dark Wood is pretty tame and a tad juvenile at first. The party has their drinks and get into some harder stuff, and Nora is clearly uncomfortable about some things. In fact, several of the characters seem a bit… off. But other than that, there isn’t much to scare anyone at first. Instead, it all starts to build up slowly, snowballing ever so gradually.
First off, Clare is marrying someone Nora knew well: James, her own ex-boyfriend. That’s enough to put Nora on edge, though Clare doesn’t seem as concerned. Then we find unaccounted foot prints in the snow, phones go missing, and some of the guests bail after the first night. It’s all setting the stage for a murderous catastrophe that will end the hen party.
In a Dark, Dark Wood plays with formatting a bit: Most chapters are in past tense, describing the hen party, but every so often, we get a chapter in present tense, told from Nora’s position in a hospital bed after the big event. But she has a bit of amnesia, and her understanding of what’s going on is fuzzy. It leaves readers on the edges of their seats, wondering who died and if it was indeed murder. And if so, who was the murderer? What was their motive?
This format keeps the novel interesting, even as seemingly mundane things go on during the weekend-long hen party. It might seem normal to the characters living it, but we know it’s all leading up to something terrible.
In a Dark, Dark Wood is a fast-paced, entertaining psychological thriller. It intrigues with our unreliable narrator, but it also chills with its spooky setting in an ominously dark and secluded forest. The character relationships and actions are a bit frustrating at times, but the novel’s twisty story makes up for that. It’s a great debut, and it’s no wonder In a Dark, Dark Wood will be made into a movie. We already see Ruth Ware’s growth as a writer in her next book, The Woman in Cabin 10, making her a promising new author in the genre.