Saturday, 13 February 2016

Review: In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

Date Finished: 4/2/2016
2015 352 pages  Rating ★★★★

My copy of In a Dark, Dark Wood was sent to me by The BookBag and my review was originally published on their website.

When it comes to contemporary crime thrillers my experience is slim. I usually like my books to be as far away from the modern world as possible, which I why I have such an affinity for historical fiction. Something about this book grabbed me though – it sounded mysterious which is most likely what sparked my interest and it felt strangely fresh to read something that was set comfortably in modern society. References to Twitter and iPhones in books make me feel weirdly at ease and I guess this down to being part of the millennial generation. Anyway, on with the plot:

Nora Shaw hasn’t seen her friend Clare since Nora left school ten years ago and didn’t look back. Now working as a crime writer and living in London, she is naturally surprised when she receives an invitation to Clare’s hen party – a weekend in a woodland cottage in the Northumberland country. Curious as to why Clare would invite her after all these years Nora reluctantly agrees to come, but as the weekend unfolds something goes very wrong and old secrets are slowly revealed.

In terms of the plot itself, this is as much as I’m willing to reveal since to say any more would damage the mystery of the story. In a Dark, Dark Wood is a crime thriller that is gripping and not exactly what I expected it to be, but for all the right reasons. It has a kind of chick-lit feel to it but I think that’s down to it centring on a hen party. The undertone of the story is actually quite dark and suspenseful, and surprisingly I enjoyed it much more than I believed I would since mystery thrillers aren’t usually a genre I go for. For someone who reads these kind of books all the time it might be a bit light for you – not that it’s not interesting but you just might crack on as to what’s happening a lot sooner than I did. However, from the first chapter I was sucked in to the story and it did a very good job at keeping me interested and wanting to know more about what was going to unfold. The novel is very much suitable as a travel or beach read; it’s escapism but still in the twenty-first century and engaging without being overly complicated. Seeing as this is Ruth Ware’s debut novel the quality of writing is impressive in addition to it having a fresh and captivating feel.

This is an incredibly quick read and the plot is a very absorbing, mystery filled page-turner. It is written from Nora’s perspective which I was glad about since I think first person narratives build up the apprehensive atmosphere and make the mystery of the story much more interesting. Set in a modern and desolate holiday home in the woodland, it has an almost creepy and oppressive feel to it and instantly the hen weekend has a sense of doom clouding over it. No one really wants to be there and I think I can guess right when I say we’ve all been in awkward social situations we’d rather get out of. The title of the novel suggests this might be a bloody and gruesome tale, but that isn’t the case – the story is clever and despite the country-house-murder mystery-feel to it, Ware’s writing is gripping and you’re left with a psychological thriller that’s very fulfilling.

There’s an interesting blend of characters that Ware fleshes out very well and there’s an intriguing underbelly of tension between the party-goers. The atmosphere is claustrophobic and gloomy and as far as mystery thrillers go it does a good job at keeping you on your toes which I think is partly due to the narrative style. The chapters spring between past and present and are well balanced enough for the story to flow easily. It’s very subtle and the layers to the plot are revealed slowly, but tactically.

I have to admit, during the final chapters it did wear a little bit thin at piecing together the mystery and although the plot was smart, the ending felt almost rushed. The way in which things came together and finally resolved was satisfying, but felt oddly hurried despite the pace being good throughout. It was overall however, very enjoyable – a thrilling and atmospheric tale that was actually a lot of fun to read.
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