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Ruth Ware's In a Dark, Dark Wood: read an excerpt

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Every year at Book Expo of America (BEA), a select group of outstanding upcoming books are chosen as “Buzz Books”—ones to watch out for because they’re going to be huge. EW presents a series of exclusive excerpts to preview some of these awesome books. 

Leonora is a reclusive crime writer and a creature of routine, known to some friends as Nora and to others as Lee. An old friend invites her on a trip, and she’s uncharacteristically compelled to say yes—but days later, she wakes up bloody in a hospital bed, knowing someone is dead, and wondering what she did.

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

I am running.

I am running through moonlit woods, with branches ripping at my clothes and my feet catching in the snow-bowed bracken.

Brambles slash at my hands. My breath tears in my throat. It hurts. Everything hurts.

But this is what I do. I run. I can do this.

Always when I run there’s a mantra inside my head. The time I want to get, or the frustrations I’m pounding away against the tarmac.

But this time one word, one thought pounds inside me.

James. James. James.

I must get there. I must get to the road before—

And then there it is, a black snake of tarmac in the moonlight, and I can hear the roar of an engine coming, and the white lines shine, so bright they hurt my eyes, the black tree trunks like slashes against the light.

Am I too late?

I force myself down the last thirty yards, tripping over fallen logs, my heart like a drum in my breast.

James.

And I’m too late—the car is too close; I can’t stop it.

I fling myself onto the tarmac, my arms outstretched.

“Stop!”

***

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.

“Leonora?”

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.”

“Nora,” I whisper.

“You want us to call Nora? Who’s Nora?”

“Me . . . my name.”

“All right, Nora. Just try to relax. This won’t hurt.”

But it does. Everything hurts.

What has happened?

What have I done?

***

I knew, as soon as I woke up, that it was a day for a park run. The autumn sunlight streamed through the rattan blind, gilding the bedsheets, and I could smell the rain that had fallen in the night, and see the leaves on the plane tree in the street below, just turning to golden-brown at the tips. I closed my eyes and stretched, listening to the tick and groan of the heating, and the muted roar of the traffic, feeling every muscle, reveling in the day to come.

I always start my morning the same way. Maybe it’s something about living alone—you’re able to get set in your ways, there’s no outside disruptions, no flatmates to hoover up the last of the milk, no cat coughing up a hairball on the rug. You know that what you left in the cupboard the night before will be in the cupboard when you wake up.

You’re in control.

Or maybe it’s something about working from home. Outside of a nine-to-five job, it’s very easy for the days to get shapeless, meld together. There are days when I don’t hear a single human voice, apart from the radio, and you know what? I quite like that. It’s a good existence for a writer, in many ways—alone with the voices in your head, the characters you’ve created. In the silence they become very real. But it’s not necessarily the healthiest way to live. So having a routine is important.

It gives you something to hang on to, something to differentiate the weekdays from the weekends.

My day starts like this.

At six thirty exactly the heating goes on, and the roar as the boiler starts always wakes me up. I look at my phone—just to check the world hasn’t ended in the night—and then lie there, listening to the pop and creak of the radiator.

What happens after that depends on the weather. If it’s raining, or if I don’t feel like going for a run, then I shower, check my e-mails, and start the day’s work.

Today was a beautiful day, though, and I was itching to get out, get wet leaves beneath my trainers, and feel the wind in my face. I’d shower after my run.

I pulled on a T-shirt, some leggings and socks, and shoved my feet into my trainers, where I’d left them near the door. Then I jogged down the three flights of stairs to the street, and out, into the world.

– – –

When I got back, I was hot and sweating and loose-limbed with tiredness, and I stood for a long time under the shower, thinking about my to-do list for the day. I needed to go through the e-mails that had come through from my website contact form, which I hadn’t done for ages because I kept putting it off. Most of it would be spam, of course—but sometimes it’s useful stuff, requests for blurbs or review copies. And sometimes . . . sometimes it’s e-mails from readers. Generally, if people write to you, it’s because they liked the book, although I have had a few messages telling me what a terrible person I am. But even when they’re nice, it’s still odd and uncomfortable— someone telling you their reaction to your private thoughts, like reading someone’s opinion on your diary.

When I was dressed, I fired up my laptop and clicked slowly through the e-mails, deleting as I went.

And then . . .

To: Melanie Cho; kate.derby.02@DPW.gsi.gov.uk; T Deauxma; Kimayo, Liz; info@LNShaw.co.uk; Maria Tatibouet; Iris P Westaway; Kate Owens; smurphy@shoutlinemedia.com; Nina da Souza; French, Chris

From: Florence Clay

Subject: CLARE’S HEN!!!

Clare? I didn’t know any Clares except . . .

My heart began beating faster. But it couldn’t be her. I hadn’t seen

her for ten years.

For a minute my finger hovered irrationally over the Delete button.

Then I clicked, and opened up the message.

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