In a dark, dark wood there was a dark, dark house;
And in the dark, dark house there was a dark, dark, room;
And in the dark, dark room there was a dark, dark cupboard;
And in the dark, dark cupboard there was…a skeleton!
—-traditional Halloween tale
Well this book is perfectly suited to an autumnal evening such is the oppressiveness of the mystery that is held within the pages of this book.
This spooky story starts with Leonora, now known as Nora being invited to the hen party of her former friend, Clare. The invite comes from the unknown Flo but Nora isn’t sure she wants to join the rest of the hens in the woodland hideaway particularly as she hasn’t spoken to Clare for ten years, ever since the day she left school one day never to return. So we already know something bad has happened in the past and you’d think that since Nora is a crime writer, she would have been alerted to something iffy, but… there wouldn’t be a story if she had done what most of us would do, and made an excuse and not gone, with good reason, after all she wasn’t invited to the wedding. Back to the story, Nora makes contact with another of the hens. Nina and they agree that they’ll both go as support to each other. After all it might be fun!
When the hens arrive at the house they are surprised that the Northumberland getaway isn’t an old creepy home but glass structured house which has views into the woods, but that means that it is easy to feel that anyone who chooses to, can see in. The atmosphere in the house is so realistically portrayed. Six people none of whom know all of the others, except the bride-to-be are forced to have fun together and you can feel the underlying tension which occurs in such unnatural circumstances. Of course part of the problem is that no-one is quite sure who knows their secrets.
The characters are great especially as the tension rises. We meet Clare the bride-to-be who is reserved in the extreme along with her chief bridesmaid Flo who is there to ensure that Clare’s hen do is everything she dreamed of and will do anything to make sure that happens, aka known as a complete control freak! Alongside them we have the token male, Tom who is Clare’s camp friend and Melanie, a new mum of the kind that believes she is the first mother to ever leave her child for the first time. With Nina far more outgoing than the more reserved Nora the first evening gets off to a lively start which isn’t without the threat of exposing long-held secrets and we all know how well drink and secrets mix!
The story is told in part in a series of flashbacks and from the start we know something went badly wrong, but what and to whom, is the mystery that kept me turning those pages. I’m not easily spooked but this author’s descriptive writing style really got me in the zone of an oppressive situation and as a consequence I was more than a little creeped out more than once.
I can’t reveal anything more without potentially spoiling the tale for others but suffice to say that although I loved this I did notice a couple of minor weak points in towards the end but the excellent writing and the fact that it raised a few hairs on my neck means that this book fully deserves all the accolades it has received; I add mine to the long list.
I am very grateful to Random House UK for my copy of this book which was published on 30 July 2015.