Title: In A Cabin In A Wood by Cass Green.
Her dream home will become her worst nightmare…
A dark and twisty psychological thriller from the No.1 ebook bestselling author of The Woman Next Door.
A strange encounter
Neve comes across a troubled woman called Isabelle on Waterloo Bridge late one night. Isabelle forces a parcel into Neve’s hands and jumps to her death in the icy Thames below.
An unexpected gift
Two weeks later, as Neve’s wreck of a life in London collapses, an unexpected lifeline falls into her lap – a charming cottage in Cornwall left to her by Isabelle, the woman on the bridge. The solution to all her problems.
A twisted secret
But when Neve arrives, alone in the dark woods late one night, she finds a sinister-looking bungalow with bars across its windows. And her dream home quickly becomes her worst nightmare – a house hiding a twisted secret that will change her life forever…
Taking a deep, wobbly breath, Neve holds up the phone and attempts to splash the narrow beam around, to get her bearings. Tall trees line one side of the track, thin and silvery trunked. She can’t see how far back they stretch, but there are no other houses to be seen.
Luckily, the icy beam reveals enough of the muddy, potholed way ahead for her to be able to walk forwards in small, nervous steps. She pictures herself twisting an ankle, or worse, and having to lie in the mud until someone
– who? – comes to help.
The night seems to be filled with scritches and scratches and scurryings. A bright moon peeps out from behind lacy skeins of cloud and reveals a gap in the bushes, filled by a rickety wooden gate. The beam of light picks out the words Petty Whin Cottage.
This is it, she thinks, before tentatively opening the gate and walking through.
She realizes now she had been carrying a vague mental picture of the cottage: white stucco paint, maybe a plant growing up the front. Possibly a thatched roof.
It’s too dark to see the cottage properly but first impressions are of a squat, low property that feels distinctly unwel- coming. Its overall shape reminds her of the ugly old cricket pavilion they used to smoke in after school.
Louder rustling in the bushes nearby now makes her heart thud harder. Neve tries to breathe slowly, forcing herself not to run towards the cottage, knowing this will set off full-blown panic. Her foot goes into a pothole and she feels her ankle give, painfully, just as she had pictured. ‘Shit, shit, shit,’ she breathes, hobbling the last steps to the front door. She has been carrying the large set of keys in her other hand as a weapon since she left the relative safety of the car. Something about this had been reassuring but now she is picturing complicated locks that must be
opened in some magical sequence she doesn’t know.
Neve points the iPhone’s beam – thankfully still holding out – at the doorway and attempts to find the key that is most likely to fit the main lock.
There appear to be three locks: a deadbolt style at the top and bottom of the door and a Chubb. Why so many? It seems excessive.
The Chubb is straightforward, but she uses the others in the wrong order and the door doesn’t yield. Her fingers are trembling with fear and cold and the bunch of keys slips from them and lands by her feet. Neve cannot help the squawk of misery that bursts from her, part-wail, part-curse. She bends over to grab at them, expecting at any moment to feel a meaty hand circling her neck, or the cold blade of a knife against her throat. Her shoulders are tortoised up to her neck – as if this would protect her – and she is lightly panting now.
She has forgotten the order she tried the keys before and anyway, they look identical.
‘Shit, shit,’ she says through gritted teeth as another attempt fails.
She tries again and this time – hallelujah! – feels the beautiful click of the mechanism releasing. Two more to go. She quickly unlocks the bottom one.
There is another loud rustle in the bushes now, like something large is forcing its way through towards her. Neve cries out, stabbing the last key into the lock.
The door opens and she almost falls through the front door into the chill, dusty air inside.
The iPhone’s light blinks out.
It is an even deeper darkness here, inside. So absolute it almost has a texture.
Breathing heavily, Neve dabs trembling fingers along the wall until she finds the nub of a light switch.
A sickly glow emanates from an old-fashioned glass shade above her head.
She is in a narrow hallway, standing on a worn runner of carpet in faded pinks and greens.
A wooden coat stand just to the right of the doorway has a single jacket on it – a Barbour – and a pair of wellies stand neatly underneath, every bit as if someone has pulled socked feet from them mere moments before.
She’s aware now that a strange smell is coating the inside of her nostrils. She can almost taste it.
Neve’s heart thuds against her ribs as she timidly opens the nearest door and peeks inside. The smell of old potpourri with a hint of damp wafts out. Fumbling with the light switch on the inside of the door, she finds it doesn’t work and gently closes the door again. She has the sensation of trying not to wake someone, or something, up. Maybe the house itself, whose atmosphere feels like a held breath.
This thought gives her stomach such a fearful twist that she strides to the end of the corridor, forcing herself to thrust the door open confidently. Her feet crunch on some- thing gritty on the carpet.
Moonlight pools on a lino-covered floor. She slaps at the light switch and two long strip lights stutter and buzz into life.
Neve looks around and lets out a small moan of dismay. She doesn’t really know what she had been expecting. Maybe a large, friendly room with worn flagstones and dried herbs hanging neatly above an Aga. Not that she would have had the faintest idea what to do with an Aga.
But she’d hoped for something warm and homey.
It certainly wasn’t this. Clumps of mud and dirt cover the floor and the bin is overflowing with rubbish that smells so bad she has to cover her face with her hand. There’s a draught coming from somewhere.
The 1970s lino flooring and mud-brown cupboards are bad enough. But she never expected it to be so filthy.
There are white bits of some material she can’t identify scattered around the sink area. Approaching cautiously, she sees what they are.
Feathers. White ones, and some grey and black too. Grimacing, Neve dips a quick look into the sink and then rears back with a squawk, crashing against the big kitchen table behind her. She has to steel herself to edge forwards slowly to take another look.
‘Oh God.’ She covers her mouth as a wave of nausea brings sweat prickling to her temples.
It’s a magpie. Dead.
Neck bent, sightless eyes like small dull holes. The feathers still have an oily sheen, black with a blueish tinge, and the white chest has a rust-coloured bib of blood. One wing is twisted and the bird’s claws curl inward, grotesquely. Neve’s nose twitches in protest at the odour of old fish and sweetish rot.
Her mother had been terrified of birds. She can still recall the prickly horror of Mum’s pallor and tight too-bright voice when a sparrow had been trapped in their bathroom. Now, illogically, Neve’s as afraid of this dead thing as if it were capable of attacking her.
Swallowing another surge of nausea, she reaches for a tea towel that’s hanging by the sink and, whimpering, begins to wrap it around the bird’s body, trying not to touch it. This strategy proves to be useless. When she tries to lift the package, the bird falls with a dull plop back into the sink. Breathing heavily through her mouth she tries again. This time she is forced to touch the cool damp feathers as she bundles the bird up into the cloth and she shudders all the way to her toes.
There’s no obvious key for the back door so she awkwardly opens the broken window, which is small and deeply recessed into the wall. Neve slings the whole package outside. She’ll deal with it in the morning when she has more resources.
Then she stands for a moment, breathing heavily, in the silent kitchen.
What a welcome.
I received a copy of this book via NetGalley and I want to thank Emilie Chambeyron for organising this blog tour.
After a drunken one night stand Neve comes across a woman called Isabelle, after a short conversation she jumps from the bridge.
A few weeks later Neve receives news that she’s inherited the dead woman’s cottage. It seems like a god send, as her life seems to be collapsing around her. But when she gets to the cottage she feels something in not right.
Neve wasn’t a particularly likeable as a character (a trend I’m not a huge fan of), at the beginning anyway. She’s selfish, a little spoilt and seems to spend her days moping around. But as the novel went on I did grow to like her a little more.
As for the story, it was immensely readable and well written. You really just wanted to know why was Neve left this cottage and who was this mysterious yet troubled Isabelle.
My only complaint would be it seemed to lack tension. I kind of expected to be on the edge of my seat but I wasn’t. Also while the ending made sense, it was a little disappointing.
But overall an intriguing novel with some good twists and turns.
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 was recommended on Radio 4’s Open Book programme and Hold Your Breath won the Oldham Book Award. She is the Writer in Residence at East Barnet School and teaches Writing for Children at City University. Her debut adult novel The Woman Next Door was a No.1 ebook bestseller. In a Cottage In a Wood is her second adult novel.