by Sharon Tucker
The supernatural may not be a major component of Ruth Ware’s suspense novels (except for reading Tarot cards…), but her books are intense reads. The primary characters who people her novels are young professionals, successful on varying levels, who find themselves in the midst of circumstances beyond their control. In a Dark, Dark Wood (2015) finds a group of former school friends gathering at a remote high-design home as a wedding approaches; a highly touted luxury cruise is the setting for The Woman in Cabin 10 (2017), and a legacy sets a family at odds in The Death of Mrs. Westaway (2019). Ware’s work compares favorably to Agatha Christie’s plots and the air of discord behind the façade. But while this is true, Ware’s world is quite different from the genteel gardens and event prone vicarages where we find Miss Marple. Ware’s primary characters are us. They are no strangers to high-pressure jobs, trauma and the unforeseen. Ware’s world is indisputably twenty-first century.
In a Dark, Dark Wood brings old school friends together again. The bride-to-be among them gathers her former close friends to celebrate her nuptials. Although they have moved into successful professions, as the evenings unwind on their long weekend and the alcohol flows, perhaps these friends have not really changed so much, but who they really are is finally evident. Our narrator, Leonora, is a reclusive writer, leading a carefully structured life that doesn’t make much room for anything new, so perhaps she is least prepared to cope with the turn of events the weekend brings. The bride, Clare, plans to marry Leonora’s former lover. This is quite a shocker to Leonora, but she has been out of touch with most of her student friends. As the weekend unfolds, we realize just how unreliable Leonora’s memory is about the past.
How reliable can the narrator of The Woman in Cabin 10 be? A recent traumatic experience clouds the job windfall she has been lucky enough to get. Lo is a travel writer whose dream job is reviewing a posh, exclusive cruise peopled with celebrities. Perhaps it is just the ticket to forget what’s happened and at the same time further her career. Or is it? A chance encounter with a woman in a nearby cabin causes Lo to question her perceptions and even her sanity when no one else has so much as seen the mysterious woman.
And speaking of windfalls, in The Death of Mrs. Westaway a young tarot reader receives a promising letter from a solicitor that may be the answer to her growing debt and desperate isolation. The solicitor invites her to be present at the reading of a will. Imagine the trepidation Harriet (Hal) feels. The upshot is that her talents as a cold reader will help her fit in to this family. The downside is that she risks unmasking as an impostor.
It’s hard to stop reading a Ruth Ware novel once you’ve started. She has a talent for drawing the reader in to such an extent that just one more page, one more chapter will get you to a stopping point so that you can pick up tomorrow. Good luck with that.
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