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'Scream' Meets Agatha Christie In 'A Dark, Dark Wood'

British author Ruth Ware's new mystery, In a Dark, Dark Wood, begins with a remote English country house and a motley group of 20-somethings gathered for a bachelorette party. Then the story shifts: A few days later, protagonist Nora Shaw wakes up in a hospital fearing she's done something terribly wrong.

Ware tells NPR's David Greene that a friend gave her the idea to set a crime novel at a bachelorette party (or hen party, as it's known in England).

"She said that she had never read a thriller set at a hen party," Ware recalls. "And I immediately thought ... 'No, I haven't either.' And ... that's really weird because actually, in a lot of ways, it's the perfect setting."

Interview Highlights

On why a bachelorette party is the perfect setting for a thriller

You have a group of quite disparate people thrown together, emotions are running high. You're cooped up in a strange environment that you can't get away from. It just seemed like the perfect recipe for both a novel and disaster.

You know, there's always the organizer who's slightly on edge and wants it to be really perfect and maybe tips over into bossiness every now and again. And then, you know, there's the friend from the past who hasn't really got that much in common with the bride today, but she's there because of kind of auld lang syne. And as I started thinking about it, all these characters just kind of jumped to life in my head.

On the book's geographic setting

It's Northumberland, which is quite far north, so it's a cold place to live and it's quite an isolated place to live. You know, it's not like America — there's not, you know, huge swaths of wilderness. But you can definitely be a long way from civilization and a long way from help. And a big part of — which I think is one of my own phobias — a big part of the books is that they're out of mobile contact. Their cellphones don't work. So immediately they're kind of in this isolated situation where they can't get help even if they want to.

On the glass house where the bachelorette party takes place, and the constant feeling the guests have of being watched

I think it came from having watched a lot of movies as a kid. Things like, you know, the Scream movies where there are teens and people in an isolated location and the camera is the eyes of the killer. And very often you get those shots where the camera is circling the house looking in through the windows. And it's incredibly creepy to be sort of outside looking in at people who are being watched unawares. And as I was watching, my instinct would always be: "Close the curtains!" This whole movie would never happen if you just had blinds. And I suppose it was born out of that — the idea that you might want to shut the blinds, and not be able to.

On the mystery writers who have influenced her

I read a huge amount of it as a kid. You know, Agatha Christie, Josephine Tey, Dorothy L. Sayers, Sherlock Holmes. And I didn't consciously channel that when I was writing, but when I finished and reread the book, I did suddenly realize how much this kind of structure owed to ... Agatha Christie. And it wasn't consciously done, but ... I would say I definitely owe a debt to Christie.

On combining influences from Scream and Agatha Christie

If I'd sat down deliberately and decided to do it, it probably wouldn't have seemed like the most logical combination. But I think Christie takes the puzzle element and kind of removes a lot of the feeling from it. You know, her novels are very deliberately — they're often told through third person or an outside observer, so you don't get that kind of visceral oh-my-God-someone-has-died feeling. And Scream is sort of the other way around: It's so much feeling and so much overacting that you kind of can't take it seriously. So in a way, I think, when you combine them you maybe get a more true-to-life experience of what it might actually be like to live through a crime and, even worse, be suspected of a crime.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR Staff