Why did you choose this book?
This is the third book I’ve read by Ware. I really enjoy her ability to develop suspense, and this novel in particular reminded me of some of the 1960s romantic suspense novels I’ve really enjoyed (think Victoria Holt, Mary Stewart, Phyllis Whitney), minus the romance.
What’s it about?
Isa Wilde and her friends Fatima, Kate, and Thea, were notorious at their boarding school for their tight-knit friendship and a game they played that involved lying to everyone around them. They spent every weekend with Kate’s father, Ambrose (the art teacher), at the nearby old mill that served as his home. Until, that is, they were expelled and he vanished. Seventeen years later, Isa receives a text from Kate, reading “I need you.” She goes, and her life will never be the same.
I found this novel to be the best from Ware so far. In a Dark, Dark Wood felt a little sporadically paced with some plot holes. The Woman in Cabin 10 felt implausible. This one sucked me right in. At times, I thought I knew where it was heading and had to take a break from the growing dread I felt. I was wrong each time, but the book certainly had pull on my emotions. I’d recommend this, despite my frustration with the protagonist, both for her constant lying and her callous treatment of her romantic partner.
Refresher (here there be spoilers)
No really, this is a book summary/plot synopsis
Ok, I warned you…
Part I: what you know before the last 50 pages.
The four girls were at school together and were expelled after the school received nude drawings of them done by Ambrose. Fatima was sent to Pakistan to join her parents, Thea was taken to yet another boarding school (she had a history of expulsions), Kate stayed at the mill, and Isa returned home to her father and terminally ill mother. The night before their expulsion, the girls discovered that Ambrose had committed suicide, leaving behind a note. They drug his body out on the beach and buried it, because Kate was too young to live independently and would have been sent to foster care. She claimed he had disappeared, but didn’t go to the police until she reached the age of majority, months later. Her troubled step-brother, Luc, was sent back to his opiate-addicted mother in France, since he was also too young to live on his own. The girls haven’t been reunited in 17 years, but when a body is discovered on the beach, Kate texts them and they all return.
Part II: what really happened.
Luc and Kate were sleeping together. Ambrose was vehemently opposed to this and was planning to send Luc away to boarding school to stop it. Luc was distraught, and after his traumatic childhood, believed that people would always betray him. He laced Ambrose’s wine with heroin, causing Ambrose to overdose orally. When Ambrose figured out what had happened (he was a former addict and knew the symptoms), he penned a suicide note in order to protect both children.
After all of this comes out, Luc and Kate have an argument. Luc, not realizing the others are in the Mill, knocks over a paraffin lamp and the Mill goes up in flames. Luc heroically rescues Isa’s infant daughter, but is himself consumed by the inferno, along with Kate, who had run back in to rescue him. The remaining three girls create a story to protect the posthumous reputations of Luc, Kate, and Ambrose, and finally quit lying to everyone around them.
Isa and her boyfriend Owen ostensibly make up, but she realizes she doesn’t really love him, although she’ll stay with him for the sake of their daughter, Freya.
As with some of Ware’s other works, I didn’t find the protagonist particularly likable, and I became frustrated with her relationship choices. If she would have confided in Owen, even a portion of the story, I would have been much less frustrated with her. Regardless, this was a compelling read.