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What's Done in Darkness


What's Done in Darkness

Laura McHugh has a knack for taking family situations and elevating them to the level of literary thrillers that will keep you hooked straight through to the end of the story. Her latest effort, WHAT’S DONE IN DARKNESS, introduces us to 17-year-old Sarabeth, who comes from an extremely religious Arkansas family. She has dreams of running away and escaping the life that her parents and their church have planned for her, but she will never expect the turn that these desires take.

As Sarabeth is alone on the road near her home, a truck pulls over and a man gets out. Believing him to need directions or some sort of help, she approaches him, only to find him wearing a creepy mask and hooded jacket. Before she has time to react, he grabs her and takes her away in his vehicle.

"Laura McHugh has an impressive talent for writing utterly readable stories that you just can’t put down, and WHAT’S DONE IN DARKNESS is no exception. The final third of the novel is a true rollercoaster ride that purports not to end safely."

The action then jumps ahead nearly five years. Sarabeth is living outside of St. Louis, Missouri, and now goes by the name of Sarah. She works at an animal rescue shelter and is incredibly happy to leave her sordid past and family behind. However, all of her efforts for a fresh start, including creating a new surname, come tumbling down when she is found out by Nick Farrow of the Missouri Highway Patrol Missing Persons Unit. He has successfully tracked her down because he needs her assistance on a case. A young woman named Abby has gone missing, and the circumstances seem to closely resemble those of Sarah’s own abduction, indicating to Farrow that it may be the same perpetrator. Sarah, afraid of losing the new life she has built for herself, initially resists the opportunity to help --- but Farrow will prove to be quite persistent.

WHAT’S DONE IN DARKNESS will continue to jump back and forth in time, allowing readers to piece together what happened to Sarah and how the secrets behind her kidnapping will rear their ugly head once again when she chooses to confront them. All she can recall is that it took the man a little over a week to release her, and she was discovered wandering the road in a slip that was covered in blood. It didn’t help matters that no one, not even the local police, believed the story she told --- until it happens again.

In the passages that deal with the past, we see how truly repressed and isolated Sarabeth was. She finally is able to get on the internet at the home of a young boy named Tom, in addition to doing other things her parents would not approve of. What’s done in darkness shall come to light is the mantra that keeps repeating in her head with the voice of her mother. Sarabeth is frightened of Tom’s creepy Uncle Ronnie, who leers at her and acts generally inappropriate when around her.

In the present, Sarah eventually succumbs to the pressure from Farrow, who indicates that he would have no choice but to out her to the press and reveal where she is living if she does not assist him. She goes on a multi-day journey with Farrow to the home of yet another girl who has gone missing, hoping that she might recognize similarities between what they saw and the incident that she has fought so hard to forget. Even though there are nuances here and there that strike Sarah as similar, there is nothing concrete to help with the missing girls.

It is at this point that the story takes an odd but inevitable turn. Somehow, Sarah’s mother locates her and wants her to return home for the wedding of her younger sister, Sylvie. At this point I felt like I was in a movie theater watching a horror flick and hearing the audience yell at the screen for the victim not to go into that dark cellar or open that ominous-looking door. I found myself questioning why Sarah would ever return to the scene of the crime, especially when the abductor was never caught and she cannot trust anyone from her past. However, the guilt over not being there on Sylvie's big day is too much.

Ultimately, all of the secrets that were once hidden in a form of darkness will come to light --- and Sarah may not be able to survive the truth once it collides with her.

Laura McHugh has an impressive talent for writing utterly readable stories that you just can’t put down, and WHAT’S DONE IN DARKNESS is no exception. The final third of the novel is a true rollercoaster ride that purports not to end safely. Sarah is a complex protagonist with whom readers can sympathize, even though some of her actions will yield many unsettling moments during this tense thriller.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on June 26, 2021

What's Done in Darkness
by Laura McHugh