In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware (2015)

This book, a thriller by British novelist Ruth Ware, was mentioned on at least three magazine’s “Must Read” lists this past summer. As always, anytime a book catches my eye I immediately put it on hold at the library. When it arrived on the hold shelf in early October, it was the perfect addition to my October Book Series.

On the surface In a Dark, Dark Wood had all of the elements of a great thriller; a protagonist with tortured secrets in her past receives a mysterious invitation to join a party of near-strangers for a weekend away at a secluded country home. Agatha Christie would surely be proud of the set up (stay tuned for my upcoming post on Christie’s Then there were None.)

The main character Nora reluctantly attends a bachelorette party for a long-lost high school friend who she seems shocked to hear from. Joining Nora in this remote house in an icy corner of the UK are the bride; the bride’s current best friend; a snarky gay co-worker; a distracted new mother desperate to leave; and Nora’s close friend Nina. Add in no cell coverage, an early season snowstorm, and rumors of locals who think the house cursed and the book if off to a strong start.

I began the book with great enthusiasm. However, from the earliest chapters I had this nagging sense that the book seemed more Young Adult than Adult. Excepting the drinking and drugs, the characters inner turmoil and outer arguments feel vaguely childish. Nora seems especially ready to be peer-pressured into drinking games and revealing her past in a way that seems at odds with the privacy she claims to want to maintain. The snappish arguments seem out of place among adults, especially ones who barely know one another. When revealed, the tormented secrets they are all keeping — while surely traumatizing to teens — do not seem substantial enough to have so greatly affected their adult lives.

There are a few moments when the tension builds nicely, my favorite being the Ouija board scene (a horror novel classic for a reason, people!) but these moments are neither sustainable nor consistent. Tragedy strikes. Hours later, Nora wakes in the ER trying to emerge from an amnesic cloud so she can remember the events that took place at the house. Her uncertainty about who to trust and what to reveal is nicely done, but again the secrets she is protecting seem to pale in comparison to seriousness of the crimes committed in that doomed house.

Overall a readable book for sure, but not outstanding. There are enough redeemable and honestly spooky moments that I feel certain the author is going to follow this up with a really great thriller.

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