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Book Review – in a dark dark wood by Ruth Ware

I noticed an odd thing the other day while I was analyzing my Twitter traffic (yes, I do that sort of thing). In the past whenever I posted a book review on my blog and subsequently tweeted about it, my Twitter impressions and engagement rate went through the roof – despite the fact I received just a handful of comments on the blog post itself. So today I’m running an experiment to see if this was an abnormality, or do my followers really care what I think when I discuss current literature. I’ve picked one of my most recent reads and I’m going to give it the review treatment today…then we’ll see what happens.

It just so happens the book I’m reviewing today was an impulse buy. I travel quite a bit for my job and to dull the suffering caused by the inconveniences of modern day air travel, I read. A lot. I usually make sure I have two books tucked in my backpack for this very reason, but on my last trip I miscalculated and left myself without literary companionship with multiple hours still left to go. So I ducked into an airport book store for a fiction-based life raft. 

I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, though my taste usually runs towards mystery/suspense/thriller in either the adult or YA vein. in a dark dark wood by Ruth Ware caught my eye, despite never hearing the authors name before. The cover was very simplistic, black and white, with a single quote in red at the bottom from Reese Witherspoon (the actress, for those of you who are cinema-challenged) stating…Prepare to be scared…really scared! Both the back cover and first two pages were covered with praise for the book from a plethora of notable sources, announcing that it was soon to become a major motion picture, but nowhere could I find a description of what the book was actually about. I was intrigued anyway, so I added it to my collection.

I’ll start off my actual thoughts about the book by saying this…Reese Witherspoon must really be a WUSS!

The book begins with a couple of quick scenes of someone running desperately through the woods, either chasing or being chased, and the reader is definitely given the impression that foul deeds are at play. From then on the story jumps back and forth between the current timeline and a re-telling of events that led up to it.

We then find out our narrators name is Leonora, which in itself is a point of contention because she used to go by Lee and now she wants to be called Nora, but nobody over the course of the book can seem to get that straight. Lee/Nora is a writer, living a solitary existence in England until she receives an invite to attend a “hen” weekend (sort of a female version of a bachelor party) for an old girlfriend (Clare) from her school days. Lee/Nora is reluctant to attend at first because apparently her past friendship with Clare brings back memories of a tragic breakup with an ex-boyfriend that she has never really gotten over. But after conferring with a close friend (Nina) who was also invited, the two make a pact to tough it out together.

The “hen” takes place at a secluded home (of course - with cell phone service that seems to be suspiciously in-sync with the plot) in the woods that was borrowed for the weekend. Along with Lee/Nora and Nina, the cast of characters for the weekend include Clare (bride-to-be), Flo (the borderline obsessive best friend and weekend organizer), Melanie (a college friend who is a new mother), and Tom (a gay co-worker of the groom and bride).

To prevent me from giving away too many spoilers, I’ll simply say that Lee/Nora learns something from Clare when she arrives that immediately has her re-thinking her decision to come, and amps up the tension considerably. Utilizing the back and forth style of story revealing, the author lets the reader learn that someone is murdered…but who is dead…and who is the murderer?

That’s enough of a setup, so let’s get down to what I thought. Ruth Ware knows how to tell a story and writes in such a way that lends itself to a quick read. No, it wasn’t scary (seriously Reese?) but it was fast paced and thrilling at times. The characters were well defined and much more than card board cutouts. As far as the mystery goes, I knew what was going on about ½ way in. But to Ms. Ware’s credit, she did throw in enough red herrings and false trails to make me doubt my assumptions at times, but in the end it was predictable. Some readers might take issue with believability if they’re unable to suspend the need for rational thought by some characters, but I brushed these aside and just enjoyed the ride. This was Ms. Ware’s debut novel and her sophomore book (The Woman in Cabin 10) is already on the bookshelves…and on my TBR list.

On a five star scale, I would give this a three. I very rarely hand out five stars and four stars signify exceptional work that resonated with me long after I turned the last page. I consider three stars a pleasurable read, but did it deserve all the praise bestowed upon it? Not in my opinion. 

And after all, that’s all this is…one guys opinion. If you read it, what did you think?


  1. I liked this one. I totally agree, the book wasn't scary. I don't think it was even meant to be scary (sorry, Reese). It's a psychological thriller, not horror. There should be tension throughout with intermittent thrills. I liked the set-up, but yeah, the end was predictable. If this had been billed as a mystery, I'd have given it three stars—predictability is the death knell of mystery. But as a psychological thriller, I gave it four. The writing was solid, the pacing excellent, the characters were well developed (although a couple of them didn't quite reach believable). The story also had the advantage of being somewhat original. I read A LOT of psychological thrillers, so when I run across one I don't feel I've read before, it always stands out. Overall, I enjoyed the read far more than her second effort, The Woman in Cabin 10.

    1. Uh I'm worried about her second book. :/

  2. This was a great book review. You summed it up well, but mostly I enjoyed your humor. I haven't read an adult thriller in several years, but I have been missing them and may have to give this one a try. (Had it been scary, I would not. Hopefully I'm not a wuss like Reese!) Christy

    1. Thanks Christy. I stand by my review, thrilling (unless you're a shut-in who freaks out when Schwans knocks on the door). :)




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