Laura McHugh has made a career of writing literary mysteries set in atmospheric locations, but with What’s Done in Darkness she stakes her claim as the queen of rural noir. What’s Done in Darkness is a tightly-coiled narrative with the venomous bite of a rattlesnake. By distilling the action down to its emotional core, McHugh gifts readers with a gem of a novel that resonates profoundly and lingers in the mind long after the final page is turned.
What’s Done in Darkness begins on the day that seventeen-year-old Sarabeth Shepherd is abducted from a roadside farm-stand in rural Arkansas. This first chapter oozes with ambience and unease. Readers will be impressed that such a brief chapter conveys so much valuable information – all in exquisitely crafted prose – before culminating in a cliffhanger ending that requires the reader continue.
From here, the narrative begins its alternating structure of present-day action interrupted by scenes from the past. In the present Sarah now works at an animal rescue. She has dropped the “beth” from her name in an effort to leave behind her traumatic past. It is not very long before readers learn that Sarabeth was found on the roadside, left for dead, one week after her abduction. She’s been “free” for five years, but Sarah has never fully dealt with the scars of that week in captivity. She thought by fleeing the Ozarks she could start over, but then Nick Farrow finds her.
Nick is investigating a series of abductions that are eerily similar to Sarah’s experience; he is hoping that she will answer a few questions that might benefit the investigations. What starts as a conversation eventual leads to Sarah returning to her hometown, unprepared to face the truths that still cause her nightmares. Sarabeth’s ultra-religious family, and the community in which they live, have secrets that hide in the darkness, ready to consume Sarah (and others) once again.
Laura McHugh pulls no punches with documenting the aftereffects of trauma and the differing paths to recovery. Her prose is hypnotic, lulling readers into a sense of security, yet always aware there is danger lingering beyond each page turn. Sarah’s bond with her sister roots the story in family, even as readers get the sense that this community is full of fractured households. When the foundation is built on secrets, any revelation can lead to the destruction of the whole.
What’s Done in Darkness is only about 250 pages, so the quick reading time allows for immersion far beyond what is commonly found. Readers get to know Sarah (and Sarabeth) on such an intimate level, that at times the desire to just give her a hug is overwhelming. She is not a character that will be forgotten anytime soon.
There is little doubt that What’s Done is Darkness deserves to be the book that makes Laura McHugh a household name, but she has released a string of exceptional works that readers can now explore as they wait for her next masterpiece.
Disclaimer: An e-galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the author. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.