Category Archives: Ruth Ware

In A Dark, Dark Wood – Ruth Ware

Having written the blog for over seven years what is wonderful (and I am always telling you all so) is the lovely people that I have met throughout that time be they fellow bloggers, folk from social media, the authors of the teams within the publishers themselves. Back in the early stages of my blog one member of a publishers publicity team was always super nice and that was Ruth Ware. So it all seems quite meta and bizarre that all these years later I should be reviewing her first crime novel In A Dark, Dark Wood. Good thing then that it is a right old page turning thriller or this could have been really, really awkward.

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Vintage Books, 2015, hardback, fiction, 352 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

It hurts. Everything hurts. The light in my eyes, the pain in my head. There’s a stench of blood in my nostrils, my hands are sticky with it.
‘Leonora?’
The voice comes dim through a fog of pain. I try to shake my head, my lips won’t form the word.
‘Leonora, you’re safe, you’re at the hospital. We’re taking you to have a scan.’
It’s a woman, speaking clearly and loudly. Her voice hurts.
‘Is there anyone we should be calling?’
I try again to shake my head.
‘Don’t move your head,’ she says. ‘You’ve had a head injury.’
‘Nora,’ I whisper.
‘You want us to call Nora? Who’s Nora?’
‘Me… my name.’
‘All right, Nora. Just try to relax. This won’t hurt.’
But it does. Everything hurts.
What has happened?
What have I done?

I don’t normally include the entire first chapter of a novel in my reviews/book thoughts, and it is not something I am planning on making a habit of. However in the case of In A Dark, Dark Wood it is very short and also shows exactly where Ruth Ware throws her reader from the off. We are in a hospital, with a woman called Leonora, or Nora, who has clearly gone through something horrendous and traumatic, the question is what? Well, here Ruth Ware is very clever indeed because actually exactly what is not revealed until the very end, instead what follows are glimpses into three strands of Nora’s life which lead up to and then reveal just what on earth happened on  a weekend in the woods.

We all have certain friendships which start off intensely and then for some reason (be it from either party) the friendship falls foul/turns sour and is over as quickly as it started. The intensity stays and lingers becoming guilt, bitterness, annoyance or loss. Whatever the lingering feeling the one thing we are sure about is that we don’t want to talk about it or think about those times or the person we might have been then. If by chance that person suddenly comes back into your life so do all those feelings, plus that tiny glimmer of hope, come back to the fore. This is the position that Nora finds herself in when she gets invited for a weekend away on Clare’s hen night. She hasn’t seen Clare in years since she left her old hometown after the two had fallen out, so why does she suddenly want her at this event, and does she really when the invite is in fact from Clare’s new best friend Flo. Yet cajoled by Nina, who also knows Clare yet doesn’t know why the two fell out as Nora won’t discuss it, they decide to go together. Soon enough things start to take a darker toll as Nora, Nina, Flo and Clare, joined by Melanie and Tom, end up in a house in the middle of a wood with no life around them, bar woodland animals and fauna, for miles and soon things start to go awry.

‘You know –’ I was thinking aloud ‘-what really creeps me out isn’t the footprints – or not as such. It’s the fact that if it hadn’t have been for the snow, we’d never have known.’
We looked out, contemplating the unbroken white carpet across the path to the forest. My own steps from the run that morning had been filled in, and now you would never have known a human foot had passed. For a long moment we all stood in silence, thinking about that fact, thinking about all the times we could have been observed, completely unaware.

There were many reasons why I thought that In A Dark, Dark Wood was a bloody (pun intended) good read and why I enjoyed getting carried away with it all. I have to admit before I started it I couldn’t decide if a hen weekend (a weekend where a bride and all her closest friends go crazy for one final big night or two of shenanigans, if you don’t know the term) would be an utterly brilliant idea for a scenario or not, of course it is, it makes all the drunken hysteria and tensions completely magnified. The setting of a house in the middle of nowhere also means no phone signal for help and who doesn’t get slightly scared in the middle of a big wood at night regardless of who you are with once the lights go out and even more so if one of them might be a psychopath?

On a more ‘literary’ level I thought that the plotting and the delivery of In A Dark, Dark Wood were brilliant. As I mentioned earlier the actual ‘incident’ that leaves Nora in hospital isn’t revealed until as close to the end as is possible and leaves you wondering just what Nora is forgetting or what she might be concealing as well as who the culprit of anything might be, well it did me and I guessed completely wrongly every time. Is Nora a reliable narrator? You’ll have to read to find out. I also thought the way Ware uses three time lines as slow reveals were added to the tension marvellously; what happened during the school years, what happened in the woods and everything that happens while Nora is in hospital. I also really enjoyed the characters who all had something to hide and were a bit spiky, in one case utterly mad (though the latter story actually made me a bit weepy at one point, which has never happened in a crime novel) or just a bit awful.

On a pure ‘escapist entertainment’ level In A Dark, Dark Wood also again excels. I felt like Ruth had soaked in all the things she loves in classic crime novels; locked house mysteries, footprints in the snow, as well as tropes from great gothic novels. There is also a wonderful nostalgic (for me anyway) sense of those brilliant movies of my teens like Scream, Urban Legend and I Know What You Did Last Summer with a sprinkling of Mean Girls the later years. What I am saying in essence and this is a huge compliment from me and so I hope is seen as such, is that this is a like a really, really good Point Horror novel for the grown up generation with a sprinkling of the spirit of Christie. It is also occasionally genuinely creepy. So what is not to like?

If you are looking for a crime novel that will give you chills, spills and thrills (I never understand what the spills part of that actually means) then I would highly, highly recommend you spend a few nights with In A Dark, Dark Wood. I also dare you to try and be able to work out just whodunit and what on earth they did before Ruth Ware unleashes the denouement. No reason Reese Witherspoon, Richard and Judy and myself all love it, and what a group of recommender’s that is! I am looking forward to Ruth’s next criminally good (sorry, couldn’t help it) novel which will be out this summer.

If you would like to hear more about the book, you can find Ruth and myself in conversation on You Wrote The Book here.

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Filed under Review, Ruth Ware, Vintage Books

London Diary #1 – Ten for 15; Speakeasy @DrinkShopDo

One of the things that I miss about London, and something I would like to address ‘oop north’ in Liverpool if I could get ten minutes, is the literary buzz that runs through the city. I don’t just mean all the famous author living or dead, or the infamous sights, sounds and streets that they write about; I also mean the fact that on almost any given night you will find something wonderfully booky going on in some lovely venue somewhere in the city.

Thanks to the lovely Will who is now Community Manager at Vintage Books, I was invited to such an event called Speakeasy at Drink Shop Do, one of those lovely shops selling gifts (like tea towels, bags, candles, cards and knickknacks that I never knew I wanted until I walk in and promptly need them)  and upstairs has a cafe-cum-bar (careful how you say that) and disco room. I do not know who had this idea but they are a genius – could they please identify themselves and open one in Liverpool instantly that I can run. Anyway tonight was all about ten readings from ten authors whose books look set to cause quite a lot of chatter in 2015, hosted by the very funny and lovely duo comprised of Ian Ellard (who I believe works for Faber) and Tom Pollock (whose books you may have read, I know I have been recommended them by many of you).

So who were the authors and what were their books about I hear you cry, desperate for me to get on with it so you can go and see if you want to read their books. Well thanks to modern technology I was able to sneakily take some snaps of the authors, which came out rather snazzily like silhouettes that some really amazing photographer would take hours to conjure. Coughs.

First up, as her surname came first, was Emily Bullock whose debut novel The Longest Fight is inspired by her grandfather and is set in 1950s South East London in the gritty and violent world of boxing. Now boxing is probably somewhere not far behind boats and horses in my idea of what I would like in a book, Emily’s reading created a real tension in the room as her protagonist faced the ring and actually hooked in me, right on the chin (see what I did there?)

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Alex Christofi was up next and broke the tension with a very, very funny reading from his debut Glass, which is currently getting a lot of buzz in all the right places as an off-beat comedy about a young man finding his way in the modern world, oh and window cleaning. If the whole book has the sense of humour, which was darkly and ever-so-slightly wrongly funny, we witnessed the whole way through I think it will be right up my street.

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Nicci Cloke was up next to read from her second novel, Lay Me Down. Set in San Francisco, it follows a couple, Jack and Elsa, as they struggle to adjust to the extraordinary demands of Jack’s job on the Golden Gate Bridge. Apparently it is also a tale of suicide. Nicci is one of the Vintage authors and so it was in part thanks to her I was there.

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All rules of alphabetic order were thrown caution to the wind as Rebecca Whitney (who might have had an early train to catch) read from her debut The Liar’s Chair, which sounded right up the alley of Gone Girl fans like myself as it asks: What if the thing you were most afraid of was your husband? Her reading was genuinely creepy, so I need to get my mitts on that.

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Antonia Honeywell was the next person to stand up (next to Ian Ellard who is in all these pictures and gives very good ‘listening’ face, I tend to stare at my shoes or idly pick at fluff on my top when an author is reading when hosting events) and read to us all from her debut novel, The Ship. Yes, you guessed it a book on A BOAT! I have to say though if anyone is going to get me reading a book on a boat in 2015 it will be Antonia. Enough about me, the story… Sixteen year old Lalla’s father has a plan to escape London which has gone into meltdown: he will captain a ship big enough to save five hundred worthy people. But what is the price of salvation?

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Den Patrick was up next and read from The Boy Who Wept Blood which is a follow up to The Boy With the Porcelain Blade. I do not know anyone who has yet to tell me they didn’t like the first so this is a series I need to do some more investigating on. In other news Den Patrick looks very like Matthew Goode out of Hollywood, you can’t tell this from my picture but it is true.

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Peter Swanson was up next with his second novel The Kind Worth Killing. Now by this point I might have had too many sherries or too many Haribo from lovely china cups, I swear that he introduced the book as being about someone who feels his wife should be killed and so does she… yet that doesn’t sound right. Either way he made me want to read it and I have his first novel The Girl With a Clock for a Heart on my shelves already.

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Ruth Ware was the second of Vintage’s authors up and was reading from her thriller In A Dark Dark Wood which is set around a hen weekend which goes horrendously wrong and a secret between some of the women that seemed to have been left in the past, hasn’t. This isn’t out until the summer so we will have to wait with baited breath. Note – I have included a shot of Tom Pollock in the background of the photo below to a) prove he was there b) show you his very good listening face.

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The penultimate reading was from David Whitehouse, whose debut Bed I absolutely loved when it came out and yet never reviewed because I am a tool. His new novel The Mobile Library sounds like it will be just as wonderful, I mean from the title you can tell it will be about bookish adventures and so any book lover wants to read it regardless of whether I tell you more or not. So I won’t. I will say in just a few pages that David read he does humour and heartbreak brilliantly well.

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Last but not least was Shelley Harris, another author whose debut I really liked but didn’t review because I am a loon – though I did share her bookshelves, reading from Vigilante which also sounds right up my street. After stumbling into a vigilante rescue one night, Jenny Pepper decides to become a hero – but with frightening consequences. Now as a lover of superhero’s, and just from Shelley’s prologue, I cannot not read this at some point this year.

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So there you have it, ten authors whose books I would highly recommend you read if you haven’t already. If that wasn’t enough I also got to see lots of lovely faces from the blogging world. Will and I have been meaning to say hello for years, also on my table were my mates Kim, Rob and Kate plus I got to meet SanneNaomi and Jim for the first time as well as the lovely Nina.  Oh and Anna from the We Love This Book. Then there were the aforementioned authors who some of came and said hello, as I was being my usual wallflower like self, as did Stuart Evers who was also in attendance. Plus from the land of publishing the lovely Sam and Francesa from Picador and Drew from Serpent’s Tail. It was quite a first night in London Town. A huge thanks to Vintage Books and especially the lovely host with the most Will for inviting me and looking after me so well!

So have you read any of these authors’ books and if so what did you think? Have you been to Drink Shop Do? Which literary events have you been to and loved?

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Filed under Alex Christofi, Antonia Honeywell, David Whitehouse, Den Patrick, Emily Bullock, Nicci Cloke, Peter Swanson, Random Savidgeness, Rebecca Whitney, Ruth Ware, Shelley Harris