A Dark and Secret Place by Jen Williams is a mystery thriller with a suspicious cult and serial killer. In A Dark and Secret place, a woman discovers her mother has secretly been speaking with a serial killer for decades.
“It sounds monstrous, but some things are just not born with maternal instincts. Some things are born scared, rabbits being one of them.”
When prodigal daughter Heather Evans returns to her family home after her mother’s baffling suicide, she makes an alarming discovery–stacks and stacks of carefully preserved letters from notorious serial killer Michael Reave. The “Red Wolf,” as he was dubbed by the press, has been in prison for over twenty years, serving a life sentence for the gruesome and ritualistic murders of several women across the country, although he has always protested his innocence. The police have had no reason to listen, yet Heather isn’t the only one to have cause to re-examine the murders. The body of a young woman has just been found, dismembered and placed inside a tree, the corpse planted with flowers. Just as the Red Wolf once did.
What did Heather’s mother know? Why did she kill herself? And with the monstrous Red Wolf safely locked inside a maximum security prison, who is stalking young women now? Teaming up with DI Ben Parker, Heather hopes to get some answers for herself and for the newest victims of this depraved murderer. Yet to do that, she must speak to Michael Reave herself, and expose herself to truths she may not be ready to face. Something dark is walking in the woods, and it knows her all too well.
“She is the hare that lays down for the teeth, he thought.”
I really appreciate a thriller that doesn’t play on any kind of full mental illness trope, and in fact, pushes that it’s not always that at hand. There is an underlying story of a cult that we only get pieces of as the story goes on and Heather tries to find out her mother’s relation to the serial killer. I had my theories, but, really the final twist surprised me. I appreciated that we got snippets of the past throughout the book, as it made you relate to and connect with Michael Reave- something you don’t often get in thriller novels.
“The girl’s heart was in the wood now at least.”
I didn’t love the pacing of this book. I found myself wanting to skim, as it wasn’t particularly exciting. Even the parts where we should be concerned for Heather, her brushing it off and nothing coming from it caused me to do the same. Several moments of this book had me contemplating if it was worth continuing to find out “who dun it” or if I should just DNF due to feeling bored. Some refer to this as a slow burn thriller, but for me, it was a lot of information delivered to us in not the greatest of formats. I found Heather extremely unlikable, to the point where if she got herself killed I didn’t really…feel sad about the idea of that happening. There is also this underlying conversation of feminism and disrespect that women receive but it wasn’t pursued in a way that really warranted it existing in the book.
“Just a little man hurting women because it’s the only way you feel powerful. God, losers like you are ten a penny.”
Lastly, and the real reason this is only a 3.5 star read for me, is that there is something supernatural that seems to occur in the end. There is no reason or explanation for this, and honestly, it drove me mad. I didn’t care for the way it all wrapped up, and the ending felt shoved down my throat with all the information I was failed to be given via an extremely slow delivery.
Thank you to Netgalley for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.