Well folks… my reading slump is well and truly over. Over the past few days I’ve read some stellar novels. “In a cottage in a wood” is just a prime example. A compelling novel that made the time I spent reading pleasurable, though at times rather tense…
The story begins in the city of London. Neve Carey, a thirty-year-old woman, has just had an evening of partying and has ended up in the awkward situation of having a drunken one-night stand. Upon awakening, and somewhat mortified, she leaves the man’s apartment and begins the long walk back to her sister’s house, where she is now living. On Waterloo Bridge she meets up with a beautiful young woman. Dressed only in an evening dress on this frigid December night, the woman speaks briefly to Neve, then gives her an envelope. Seconds later she jumps from the bridge to her death.
Traumatized by this event, things only get worse for Neve. She abhors her boring job as a receptionist for a magazine publishing company. Her best friend is married and heavily pregnant (thus no fun anymore); Six weeks ago she broke up with her boyfriend and is now sleeping on the pull-out bed at her sister’s house (much to the disapproval of her sister’s husband). She has very little money and can barely pay her bills, let alone look for a flat somewhere… Then she thinks her prayers have been answered! The police have tied up the bridge suicide case and have released the envelope that the woman gave her. It seems that this strange woman has left her a cottage! Is that even legal??? Yes, it appears there is something called a “Donatio Mortis Causea” which makes it all perfectly legal. Neve cannot believe her luck! She walks out of her boring job and uses the last of her dwindling funds to travel to Cornwall, where the cottage is located. In her mind she pictures a lovely little stone cottage with roses around the door…After an arduous journey, Neve arrives at ‘Petty Whin Cottage’ after dark. Less than welcoming, the cottage is filthy and strangely, the windows all have bars on them. What has the former occupant wanted to keep out? To make matters worse, there is a dead magpie in the kitchen sink! Cold and dark, the cottage is the last place that city girl Neve wants to be – the middle of nowhere. With few funds at her disposal, and no vehicle, she is stranded in a cottage that seems creepier by the second. No television and no wi-fi, this truly is the back of beyond. Disconsolate and more than disappointed, Neve spends her first night in her new home.
Neve has reached a crossroads in her life. The cottage is hideous and WAY too rural for her liking. Her bills are mounting up and she has no job — no skills.
The next morning, after only the most cursory cleaning of her new home, she sets off on foot to hopefully find a village store where she can buy at least food staples. After a fruitless cold and wet hike, she meets up with Sally, a neighbor who offers her a ride. Sally, her husband, and her son live just minutes away. What a relief! That is until she returns to Petty Whin Cottage to find the toilet backed up and another dead magpie on her front step! Now completely freaked out, Neve is afraid and so alone. When the axe from atop the woodpile goes missing, she is distraught enough to phone the police. They are less than empathetic and tell her that the cottage’s previous owner, Isabelle Shawcross, had called them many times in the past…
“How can monsters be so… normal?”
Luckily, Sally and her husband allow her access to their wi-fi via their password. When checking Facebook, Neve realizes that the woman who bequeathed her the cottage, Isabelle Shawcross, was one of Neve’s Facebook ‘friends’. How could that be? She had never met her before the fateful night on the bridge.
Events escalate, and the reader’s tension is turned up to maximum. Neve’s predicament worsens exponentially. She finds photos of herself on Isabelle’s laptop… Gradually Neve learns more about Isabelle and what prompted her to take her life.
The reader is in for a tension filled ride as Neve’s history intersects with that of Isabelle.
Wow! I loved this book! It was just creepy enough, just well-paced and well-plotted enough, that it ticked all the boxes. Though there were a few aspects of the plot that I predicted about halfway through, the author still had some other surprises up her sleeve.
The isolated setting and Isabelle’s morbid family history ensured that the reader turns the pages with baited breath… The disturbed (and sometimes unlikable) characters coupled with the atmospheric locale make the read deliciously tense. A skilled marriage of modern thriller and gothic suspense.
I was fortunate enough to receive a digital copy of this novel from HarperCollins via Edelweiss.
It was my pleasure to write this heartfelt review.
Cass Green is the pseudonym of Caroline Green, an award-winning author of fiction for young people. Her first novel, Dark Ride won the Rona Young Adult Book of the Year and the Waverton Good Read Award. Cracks and Hold Your Breath garnered rave reviews and were shortlisted for eleven awards between them. She is the Writer in Residence at East Barnet School and has been a journalist for over twenty years. The Woman Next Door was her first novel for adults.