DAVID GREENE, HOST:
I'm David Greene. Good morning. You know, I was reading a new mystery the other day, sitting in this secluded park here in Washington, D.C., and that was a pretty bad idea. I mean, even the title, "In A Dark, Dark Wood," sends chills up the spine on a hot summer day. Here's the scenario - a remote English country house, a motley group of 20-somethings gathered for what's supposed to be a celebration. Then the story shifts, a few days later, when protagonist Nora Shaw wakes up in a hospital fearing she's done something terribly wrong. British author Ruth Ware employs a pretty unconventional backdrop for a thriller - a hen party, known here in the U.S. as a bachelorette party. And when we spoke, I was quick to remark on something I usually don't - the press material accompanying the book.
It struck me because in the press release, your publicist made very sure to point out that your bachelorette weekend was very tasteful and nobody got murdered.
RUTH WARE: (Laughter) Yeah, I have to say my own hen party was quite boring. Well, no, it was lovely. It wasn't boring, but, you know nobody got murdered.
GREENE: (Laughter) Your friends aren't listening, don't worry, don't worry.
WARE: Absolutely, it's fine. No, it was very respectable and nobody got murdered, most importantly.
GREENE: And nobody got murdered. Why use a bachelorette party as a jumping-off point for a crime novel?
WARE: I suppose the inspiration came when I was talking to a friend, and I can't remember how we got onto the subject, but she said she'd never read a thriller set at a hen party.
WARE: And I immediately thought about three things simultaneously. One was, no, I haven't either, and the second was that's really weird because actually, in a lot of ways, it's the perfect setting. You know, 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.
GREENE: Well, another important character, I think, in the book is the actual setting. I mean, the house where all the guests are gathered. It's this isolated English country home, and, we should say, this is not England in the summertime.
WARE: No, 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, there's - it's not like America. There's not, you know, huge swathes 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 book 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.
GREENE: Well, set the scene for us, if you don't mind reading a little bit. I wonder if you could start on page 33.
WARE: Oh, perfect.
(Reading) Leaving London, I'd thought the weather had felt like autumn. Suddenly, so much farther north, it felt like winter had come overnight. It wasn't just the close-growing pine shutting out the light with their dense needles nor the cold, crisp air with its promise of frost to come. The night was drawing in and the house felt more and more like a glass cage, blasting its light blindly out into the dusk, like a lantern in the dark. I imagined a thousand moths circling and shivering, drawn inexorably to its glow only to perish against the cold, inhospitable glass.
GREENE: You read in that creepy way. I love it.
GREENE: The inhospitable glass, I mean, this was a glass house. And Nora, who's your protagonist, and all the other guests, have the sensation of being watched all the time, like they're on a stage and the trees are the audience. I mean, were you going for this sense that these partygoers were putting on some kind of performance the whole time?
WARE: I guess that was part of it. But also, 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.
GREENE: You know, I just think that, you know, there's a landline telephone that is down in this house. There's a gun that is supposedly not loaded. There's a Ouija board. Were you tipping your hat to sort of some of the classic things that we think of in mystery novels?
WARE: Yeah, absolutely. I love classic crime. 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 ode to - particularly to Agatha Christie. And it wasn't consciously done, but I think the setting, you know, the way it's a closed cast of characters - so yeah, I would say I definitely owe a debt to Christie.
GREENE: You know, it's funny. I think of "Scream" and, I mean, those movies are known as being just completely absurd and slapstick. And, you know, to combine that with also kind of Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes, that seems to be really pulling off a feat.
WARE: Well, I don't think if I'd sat down and 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 a 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. There'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.
GREENE: Are you sort of addicted to this genre, or your next novel, if you do another one, is going to take in a totally different direction?
WARE: As a reader I read quite widely. But yeah, I'm writing a new novel at the moment and it's definitely in the same vein. I don't want to give too many spoilers.
GREENE: Bachelor party this time.
WARE: It's not a bachelor party. No, I have no experience of attending those, fortunately, so - it's set on a cruise.
GREENE: Oh, a cruise ship.
WARE: Yeah, so a little bit Agatha Christie, kind of "Death On The Nile" sort of thing, maybe (laughter).
GREENE: Well, I'll look forward to your next book. I don't want to get on a real cruise ship with you, but I'll certainly read it.
WARE: (Laughter) Thank you.
GREENE: It's author Ruth Ware. Her new novel is "In A Dark, Dark Wood." Ruth, thanks so much for talking to us. We appreciate it.
WARE: Thank you for having me. It was wonderful.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.