Within the first few chapters, I knew I was going to absolutely love this book. The stage is set for a classic Agatha Christie-style mystery: a group of strangers is brought together in a house deep in the titular dark, dark wood where there is no cell reception, no easy way to escape, and where the characters are all bound by dark secrets from their past.
In Ware’s take on this classic trope, the characters convene for a bachelorette party organized by a rather obsessive perfectionist maid of honour named Flo for her BFF Clare. The main character is Leonora “Nora” Shaw, who is surprised to be invited since she hasn’t spoken to Clare since a falling out years ago. She decides to attend anyway, and as any mystery lover can attest, this cannot end well. What follows is a hilariously awkward weekend with people who mostly can’t seem to stand each other, and then someone is murdered. The novel opens with Nora in a hospital bed, trying to piece together what had happened.
In a Dark, Dark Wood is a classic mystery thriller. I couldn’t put it down, and I felt compelled to keep reading not only to find out what actually happened but also to find out how the various relationships develop. There are some aspects that stretch belief somewhat, for example that a bad breakup when Nora was just 16, could still have this much effect on her ten years later (why hasn’t she moved on yet?!), and also some twists and revelations that felt more convenient that believable. The motive behind the crime also felt odd, and I almost wish Ware had set it up a bit more like Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley character, which will possibly help us understand better how someone’s psyche can be so messed up that murder seems a sensible response to this motive.
That being said, I absolutely loved this book. I’m a sucker for classic Agatha Christie whodunnits and I think Ware captures this feel wonderfully. The house in the woods is a perfect setting for such a creepy mystery, and I absolutely love the twisted interlocking webs of messed up relationships that drove this story forward. Finally, I think the cover is just beautiful.
Author Q&A with Ruth Ware
- I love the classic Agatha Christie whodunnit feel. How much was And Then There Were None an influence on this book, and how much is Agatha Christie herself an influence in your writing?
I loved Christie as a teen – well, classic crime full stop, really – so it’s definitely something that was there in the back of my head. However it wasn’t really a conscious decision to channel those influences into In a Dark, Dark Wood, but when I’d finished writing it I handed it to my agent who immediately said “you know, this has a very Agatha Christie-ish feel” and I realised she was right, and Christie’s influence had definitely seeped through into the text. The reference to And Then There Were None in the text is my little acknowledgement of that!
- What inspired this story? Where did the idea come from?
The original seed was a conversation with a friend who said she’d never read a thriller set on a hen night and would love to read one. And I realised in that moment that I’d never read a thriller on a hen night either, and would love to write one! On the tube on the way home I couldn’t stop thinking about the idea, and eventually it became In a Dark, Dark Wood.
- Why do you think the name change (from “Lee” to “Nora”) is so important to Leonora? Why is Clare so insistent on calling her “Lee”?
Well, one of the themes of the book is identity and self-image, and the way we choose how we to appear to others. Often the person we are at school is radically different from the person we are when we grow up – and Nora’s name change is a way of her owning that, I suppose – acknowledging that she’s more than Clare’s best friend (Clare was the person who bestowed the “Lee” nickname on Nora and it’s something she’s ambivalent about.) I suppose for Nora, making people use her grown-up name rather than her teenage nickname is a way of asking them to acknowledge that she’s not the same person she was back then, whereas Clare is maybe trying to do the opposite – remind Nora of who they used to be to each other.
- Will you be involved at all in the motion picture adaptation? How well do you think your story will translate to screen?
I know that some writers adapt their own books for screen, but I can’t imagine doing that. I’m not sure I’d know how! I think (I may be biased!) that it could be a great film, it’s certainly very visual and I think the dark woods and the glass house could make a great setting. A lot of the action takes place in Nora’s head though, and the tension comes from inside her. You’d need a good actor and director to convey that.
- Clare pretty much ends up having the bachelorette party from hell. What has been your most memorable (good, bad or simply hilarious) bachelorette party experience?
I’ve not had any really hideous experiences myself, but I did have a lot of friends unburden themselves to me after they read the book. I think the worst anecdote I heard was a party where the stripper failed to turn up, so the bar tender offered to make a few calls and find a replacement. Eventually a guy turned up, but the first clue that all was not quite well was that he folded his clothes neatly as he removed them! There followed an excruciating quarter of an hour as he got naked. When he had finished he turned and put them all back on again and quietly left. It turned out that he was the bar tender’s nephew or something, and an accountant and had never stripped before!
Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, and thank you to Ruth for participating in the Q&A!
Blog Tour and Contest
This review is part of the Simon Schuster Canada Perfect Pairing Blog Tour. Check out the full schedule below.
Also: nothing pairs up better with a book than a cup of coffee, so heads up on an awesome contest: Simon and Schuster Canada is giving away a set of books AND one year of free coffee from aroma espresso bar! Enter at readchillrepeat.com.