Sarah and Patrick are “happily” married and have two teenage children, Mia and Joe. Sarah is just starting to emerge from a long depression, brought on by her mother’s death. She’s still fragile. Patrick thinks what they need is a fresh start and he announces that the house where he grew up is available for sale and they should buy it and move. Just one tiny problem: fifteen years ago, the family who was living in that house – all but one survivor – was stabbed to death by a crazy person. What could go wrong?
Turns out, quite a lot does go wrong in Vanessa Savage’s debut The Woman in the Dark. And, unfortunately, that’s part of the problem with the book. It’s too bad because the book had a lot of promise. If you were playing a drinking game and had to take a drink for every trope, you’d be sloshed by the novel’s halfway mark.
I don’t want to step inside that house, but Patrick doesn’t see what I see when I look at the picture. He sees the beautiful Victorian house he grew up in, with its pitched roof and gabled ends – a fairy-tale house before it became a country House of Horrors. He sees happy memories of a childhood lived by the sea. He doesn’t imagine blood on the walls or whispering ghosts. He doesn’t see the Murder House, but I do.
Unfortunately for Sarah, that early intuitive insight doesn’t sustain her. She’s an unreliable narrator surrounded by people who keep secrets. And instead of a classic haunted house story, which might have been a more successful route, Savage chucks everything she could think of at the story, hoping that some of it would stick. It’s too much and not all of it lands successfully.
There’s Sarah’s mental health issues, gaslighting, isolation, creepy gifts left on the doorstep of their new home, people who are not who they seem, people who are who they seem, and you should have known it, secrets galore – some of them which inform the story’s narrative, but should have been spilled long ago, teen angst, writing on the walls (literally), domestic violence, a creepy basement…the list goes on. I kind of felt like the book didn’t really know what it wanted to be, which was too bad because I think the writing was pretty decent, and I was certainly hopeful when I started reading, especially because the book garnered copious praise.
It was a miss for me, but I would certainly be opening to reading more from this author.