We’re again pairing a debut author with a seasoned author. Both, however, are now bestselling authors since Ruth Ware’s debut novel, In a Dark, Dark Wood, became an instant bestseller. It also made tons of “Pick” lists. Our other book, Trust No One, is by bestselling and award-winning author Paul Cleave. If you love psychological thrillers with a touch of horror, I don’t think Paul Cleave will need an introduction. Both of these novels gave me a serious case of the shudders. I had originally planned to feature them during October but then Friday the 13th popped up on my calendar and I thought, “How perfect for these 2 eerie novels!” So what makes them similar? The two main characters are both authors and there’s just a bit (gross understatement) of insanity running through both novels – you’ll see. So, if you’re someone who loves really scary novels then here’s some fun reading for your Friday the 13th…
Our first novel is In a Dark, Dark Wood. The book cover should have been my first clue that it had sinister things in store for me but I didn’t realize just how sinister they might become, kind of like the characters in the story. *Cue the dark music*
Leonora (who is known by some as Nora and by some as Lee) is a crime writer who is happiest when she’s comfy cozy in her apartment, writing away on her next novel. In fact, her friends think she might be a bit agoraphobic because she really doesn’t like to leave her apartment unless at all necessary. So you may understand that she’s quite reluctant when she gets an invite to Clare’s weekend bridal hen party in the English countryside…in a glass-enclosed house in the woods. What’s odd about the invite, other than an odd setting for a hen party, is that Clare is someone she lost touch with years ago after leaving college. Nora/Lee is pretty literally guilted into accepting the invite, reluctantly packs her bags, and heads off for what she hopes will be an okay weekend or at least not a socially painful one.
“Why had Clare Cavendish asked me to her hen night?
Could it be a mistake? Had this Flo just plundered Clare’s address book and fired off an email to anyone she could find?
But just twelve people…that meant my inclusion could hardly be a mistake. Right?
I stared at the screen as if the pixels could provide answers to the questions shifting queasily in my gut.”
Two days later, Nora/Lee wakes up in a hospital and has no clue how she got there. And the thought that keeps running through her mind is, “What have I done?” What has she done? What happened at that isolated house in the woods? What could possibly happen at a hen party that would land her in the hospital? It feels critically important that she piece it all together even though her mind feels like Swiss cheese. Something is very, very wrong with this whole thing – but what?
“It hurts. Everything hurts. The light in my eyes, the pain in my head. There’s a stench of blood in my nostrils, and my hands are sticky with it.
The voice comes dim through a fog of pain. I try to shake my head, my lips won’t form the word.
‘Leonora, you’re safe – you’re at the hospital. We’re taking you to have a scan.’
It’s a woman, speaking clearly and loudly. Her voice hurts.
‘Is there anyone we should be calling?’
I try again to shake my head.
‘Don’t move your head,’ she says. ‘You’ve had a head injury.’”
In a Dark, Dark Wood has been compared to Gone Girl and Girl on a Train, which I think are apt comparisons. I’ve purposely only given you the basic set-up for this novel because anything more would create too many spoilers. Obsession and revenge play a big role in this suspenseful tale, with its definite nod to Agatha Christie. It’s one of those novels I can’t put down because I can’t leave the characters hanging out there in a dangerous situation – I know it makes no sense but there ya’ go…Mk to the rescue. LOL If you’re a psychological thriller fan then I think you’ll be a happy camper with this one!
Our second novel, Trust No One, is just as sinister as the first one and also features a main character who’s a crime novelist…a novelist with at least one secret. (Did I mention that Nora/Lee also has a secret? No? Well, she does.) The crime novelist in Trust No One is Henry Cutter but that’s just his pseudonym. His real name is Jerry Grey but we’ll call him Henry to avoid confusion.
Henry has a problem. Well, actually he has several but one of them is going to wreak havoc with his worldwide bestselling book career and his whole life as he’s known it. Henry is forty nine years old and has been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. That brings us to another one of Henry’s secrets – Henry doesn’t write his novels; his wife does. It’s a relationship that works well for both of them. She loves writing, and in fact is so obsessive about it that she literally can’t quit writing – piling up manuscripts faster than Henry knows what to do with them. Henry? Well, Henry is the front man. He’s always been very outgoing and plays the role of famous author beautifully. No one, from his publisher to the public, has a clue that he’s not the force behind his amazingly successful novels.
So, knowing about his professional secret, you might think he’s got the best of all worlds. Even as his mind begins to lose itself, he’ll still be able to get his next novel to the publisher by the deadline and still be able to do his book tours. And he might be able to publish additional novels for years to come until his disease makes a mockery of his “stage” abilities. You’d think that…but there are other forces at work that aren’t clear on the surface…and those, my friend, are going to bite Henry in the butt.
One of the things that happens to people with dementia of any kind, and Alzheimer’s in particular, is that their judgment becomes – hmmm, how to say this delicately – compromised. Now we’ve already seen that Henry’s ethics don’t appear on the surface to have ever been exactly stellar. Imagine what they could become as his mental faculties become more and more compromised. In fact, Henry has built a life that greatly resembles a house of cards or one of those long complex domino-collapse puzzles – and it has just reached the stage of instability, literally and figuratively.
How it falls apart and the secrets that get revealed as it falls apart left my jaw hanging on the floor over and over again. Think about it – Henry’s wife is a shut-in who writes almost 24/7. How could she possibly get the material for her novels? When Henry’s judgment fails, we learn he has provided that material for her. He has done intensive, exacting research into every crime in all 12 books – and we’re not talking about library research here…and that’s just the tip of the iceberg of what’s going to happen as Henry loses more and more touch with reality and his mind. Let’s just say you shouldn’t start Tell No One late at night unless you plan to pull an all-nighter because you won’t be able to put it down.
“His mind is wandering, it’s doing that thing it does that he hates, that he oh so hates.
The policewoman staring at him has a look on her face one would reserve for a wounded cat…”
“He closes his eyes and he focuses, focuses, and he takes himself back to Suzan with a z, Suzan with her black hair tied into a ponytail, Suzan with a sexy smile and a great tan, and an unlocked door at three in the morning. That’s the kind of neighborhood Jerry [now Henry] lived in back then. A lot has changed in thirty years. Hell, he’s changed. But back before texting and the Internet butchered the English language, people weren’t as suspicious. Or perhaps they were just lazier. He doesn’t know. What he does know is he was surprised to find her house so easy to get into. He was nineteen years old and Suzan was the girl of his dreams.
‘I can still feel the moment,’ Jerry says. ‘I mean, nobody is ever going to forget the first time they take a life…’”
Now, I’m willing to admit that Trust No One may have affected me differently than it will you because mom has dementia. Although she was an artist, she, thankfully, was not a professional con artist and bears no resemblance to someone like Henry. Want to find out what happens when a secret serial killer gets dementia?
Paul Cleave nailed the judgment fail aspect of dementia big time – as well as the paranoia, hallucinations, and many other symptoms caregivers find themselves unequipped to deal with. And then there are those brief lucid periods followed by a feeling like you’ve gone down a rabbit hole when your dearly beloved demented one goes back off into LaLa Land again mid-sentence. Bottom line: I really wanted to stop reading because of the situation I was experiencing personally but I was so riveted by the insanity of what was happening that I couldn’t stop. I was on this horrific funhouse ride to the bitter end.
Trust No One is a psychological thriller with horror mixed in, as is the case with The Dark, Dark Wood. I’m not going to expose any more of what Henry does so I can avoid spoilers. I’ll just say it gets far, far worse before it’s all over. I still get shivers when I think about it. I’ll just leave this here – Henry’s secrets are deep and about as dark as they can get and, as his paranoia increases and his judgment decreases, it’s a recipe for disaster for all around him.
Can’t wait to read these two scary novels? Trust No One & In a Dark, Dark Wood are both available in all formats from your favorite online bookseller below. Download them as e-books and you’ll have them to keep you awake all night on Friday the 13th (said the evil book reviewer).
I’d love to get your comments on Trust No One, In a Dark, Dark Wood, Paul Cleave, Ruth Ware and/or Paul Cleave’s other work, and/or this review.