In a Dark, Dark Wood, Ruth Ware, Author, Imogen Church, narrator
When the story began, Leonora Shaw, an author who writes crime novels for a living, has received an unusual and unexpected invitation to a hen night for a friend she had not seen in a decade. The email was addressed to the name she used to call herself, Lee, but now she was known as Nora. She couldn’t figure out why her old friend Claire Cavendish would even want her at her hen party. For old time’s sake, though, when Claire’s friend Flo kept calling and pleading with her to come because Claire would be so pleased, she filled with guilt and decided to go. She made arrangements with her friend Nina, who was also invited, to go together, although neither really wanted to attend. Nora does not have a clue as to why she was even invited to the hen night; she was not invited to the wedding. Soon she will find herself involved in a situation the she might have imagined for a future book in her genre rather than something happening to her in her real life.
The house in the woods where the party was being held was a bit more extravagant and of a different style than what they had expected. It was a fairly new, large and modern house in a remote area with large glass windows looking out onto the woods surrounding it. Soon they discovered that although the house had modern conveniences, it had very poor cell phone service and a landline phone which ceased to work. They were essentially out of touch with the rest of the world for the weekend. Six guests were expected; they were mixed bag of individuals with different backgrounds. Five were female and one was male.
Nora liked to run, and after they arrived, she donned her athletic clothes and did just that. It grew dark quickly, and she was startled by the sudden appearance of the headlights of a car. The driver just happened to be her old friend, Claire, the guest of honor. She gave Nora a lift back to the house and revealed the name of her future husband to her. It was quite a shock since it turned out to be none other than Nora’s childhood sweetheart, James. She had not seen either of them in the past ten years which finally provoked Nora to ask the question she should have, when first invited. Why had she been invited to this hen night? The weekend had become even more awkward for her now.
When they arrived back at the house, there was no time for further discussion. The hostess, Flo, Claire’s very good friend and ardent admirer, actually, a woman who worshiped her, took over the conversation. She had made entertainment plans for the evening which ed out to be decidedly embarrassing and uncomfortable for Nora. When the rest of the weekend plans were revealed, they realized it was not going to be the typical hen’s retreat. Not every guest was as thrilled with the plans as Flo was, but they were good sports because she had truly worked hard and extended herself. Nora mentioned that she had noticed footprints in the snow when she returned from her run that morning, but no one else had seen them and the comment was dismissed, although the idea of the footprints were destined to come back and haunt them.
Flo had a short fuse and an odd temperament and she flew off the handle unexpectedly and inappropriately. Her hero worship of Claire often sent her into the stratosphere of emotional outbursts. Often, her anger was directed at Nora, the reason for which was a total mystery to her. It was Claire that stepped in at those times to calm Flo down which leads both Nina and Nora to believe that Claire has changed. She used to be quite malicious, storing up little embarrassing facts about everyone and dropping them publicly, at inappropriate times to humiliate them.
They all went skeet shooting the following day and learned how to use a shotgun, although they all thought it was an unusual event for a hen party. That evening Flo brought out a Ouija board game, the results of which unnerved many of them with its final message. It led to a conversation about the house they were visiting. They learned that Flo’s aunt had some issues with her neighbors when she was building her house and it burned to the ground under unknown circumstances and had to be rebuilt. Fortuitously, the insurance paid for most of it. The news was unsettling and before retiring for the night, they made an extra effort to make sure the house was locked up tight. The weekend has become oppressive and both Nina and Nora thought about sneaking out to return home, but the weather, the lateness and the fact that they had been drinking made them think better of the idea. They decided to tell everyone that they were leaving earlier than intended in the morning.
During the night, they were all awakened by a strange sound. Someone was in the house. Quietly, they all gathered in the hall, frightened. Soon they saw the shadow of a man dressed in dark hoodie. Flo shouted out at the intruder, pointing the shotgun that had been hanging over the mantle at him. It was supposed to be unloaded and was just intended to frighten him, but when she pulled the trigger, she made an awful discovery. A man had been shot, not just frightened. They all knew his identity. Without phone service there was little else to do but drive him to the hospital themselves. He was still alive. Nina, a surgeon, had treated him as well as she could under the circumstances.
In the next scene, the reader found Nora plagued by odd dreams, lying in a hospital, in pain, bloody and bandaged. She has no memory of anything beyond the frightening event that occurred in the house, and even those facts are sketchy. She finds herself unable to even speak her thoughts coherently, but she instinctively knew that something terrible has happened.
From here, the story really explodes, and as secrets are revealed, the reasons for the tragedy become clear. Repercussions from these many skeletons in the closet, were dire. I suggest reading this book to find out the rest of the story. Actually, I think this book should be listened to because there was a great deal of dialogue which was read with such appropriate expression and emphasis, with the tone of voice of each character clearly differentiated, that it was even better than I think it would be in print where the dialogue might have been perceived as more trivial. I could actually picture scene after scene in my mind’s eye from the author’s descriptions and the reader’s interpretation.
The story is basically set up as a murder mystery with strange unexplained events randomly occurring with no explanation. There are hints about all sorts of malevolence that never come to fruition, but they keep the reader interested. Misdirection and interesting twists and turns kept me interested and guessing as to what would come next. The author also used humor effectively to relieve the tension as it built up.
Who was shot, why was he shot, who was the shooter, did the victim live or die? How did the mystery end? It is a thrilling story which will keep you guessing, sitting on the edge of your seat waiting for the next word, the next phrase, the next page, hoping for answers to the strange questions arising, hoping to discover what secrets are behind this odd set of circumstances.