Review of In a Dark Dark Wood, by Ruth Ware

Rural Northumberland can be so lonely as to be downright scary & provides a perfect setting for an update of the classic country house weekend murder mystery. A hen party or do is what we Yanks would call a bachelorette party, & the narrator, Nora, is unexpectedly invited to join one for her old schoolfriend Clare, whom she’s not seen in ten years. Even more surprising is Nora’s discovery that the groom will be James, the first & only great love of her life who unceremoniously dumped her by text message. So I really wanted to like this one, but it requiring swallowing too much that I found implausible.

For me that point I’d exclaim incredulus odi (as Horace expressed it) varies with the genre. Fantasy & science fiction are the most permissive, then there’re supernaturals & paranormals, & stricter still are romantic fiction & tragedy, which require real-seeming human characters but with more coincidences & a higher level of intensity than any of us can achieve in ordinary life. Detective fiction is the least permissive, because the reader is trying to figure out who did it, & why & how, on the basis of clues to what we can expect can actually happen. In fairness to the author, I credit her with putting all her cards on the table. (She goes to so much trouble to get a shotgun into the story that one character makes a theatrical joke about it.) I sussed out the main plot device but the method & the perpetrator eluded me because the villain’s motives seemed insufficient & the plan too complicated to imagine anyone’s trying it in normal life. I also could not believe that the exes had absolutely no contact over a decade after a sudden unexplained breakup by text message. Surely one or the other would have had an irresistible urge to hit the call button after listening to Taylor Swift’s I Almost Do too many times, or a mutual friend put them in touch.

We all have different thresholds of credulity, & some readers might well find this book a four star fast-read thriller, tho’ with such flat characters & no spiritual or moral issues, it’s not close to a five star. I was tempted to hold @ two, but the setting pushed it up a notch.

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