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  • Writer's pictureJudith D Collins

What's Done in Darkness

ISBN: 9780399590313

Publisher: Random House

Publication Date: 06/22/21

Format: Other

My Rating: 5 Stars +++

Abducted as a teenager, a woman must now confront her past and untangle the truth of what really happened to her in this dark thriller from the author of The Wolf Wants In.

One of 2021’s Best Beach Reads—OPRAH DAILY

“Laura McHugh expertly delivers a harrowing tale of a world where little is what it first appears to be.”—Ron Rash, bestselling author of Serena

Seventeen-year-old Sarabeth has become increasingly rebellious since her parents found God and moved their family to a remote Arkansas farmstead where she’s forced to wear long dresses, follow strict rules, and grow her hair down to her waist. She’s all but given up on escaping the farm when a masked man appears one stifling summer morning and snatches her out of the cornfield.

A week after her abduction, she’s found alongside a highway in a bloodstained dress—alive—but her family treats her like she’s tainted, and there’s little hope of finding her captor, who kept Sarabeth blindfolded in the dark the entire time, never uttering a word. One good thing arises from the horrific ordeal: a chance to leave the Ozarks and start a new life.

Five years later, Sarabeth is struggling to keep her past buried when investigator Nick Farrow calls. Convinced that her case is connected to the strikingly similar disappearance of another young girl, Farrow wants Sarabeth’s help, and he’ll do whatever it takes to get it, even if that means dragging her back to the last place she wants to go—the hills and hollers of home, to face her estranged family and all her deepest fears.

In this riveting new novel from Laura McHugh, blood ties and buried secrets draw a young woman back into the nightmare of her past to save a missing girl, unaware of what awaits her in the darkness.

My Review

What’s Done in Darkness Must Come to Light.

I LOVED THIS BOOK! Little House on the Prairie meets Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects. Superbly written, gritty, dark, chilling, twisty, and best of all, a leading protagonist you will fall in love with and root for until the explosive final page is turned. An absolute “page-turner!”

The sinister factor starts early and builds quickly in this Ozarks town. Its overly religious Godly Christian facade gives way to deadly menace and dangerous secrets in this twist-a-minute novel.

Highly creative, Laura McHugh’s, WHAT'S DONE IN DARKNESS is a unique thriller. A sensitive exploration of trauma and its harmful lasting effects but comes out stronger from the experience. With non-stop action, there is never a dull moment. The author dives deep into the minds of her characters.

Meet Sarabeth/Sarah:

As the book first opens, we meet Sarabeth at age 17. She hates her life, and who could blame her. Girls just want to have FUN, and trust me, there is NO fun to be had here. This family and town in the Ozarks are dangerous and sinister!

Sarabeth had a pretty normal life, but her dad got caught doing something he was not supposed to be doing with a waitress (called the father’s accident). So the mom takes control and forces the entire family to move to this Godforsaken place in the middle of nowhere and live off the grid. Their whole family is brainwashed by the local pastor and this church family. Can anyone say claustrophobic?

At least at their former home and town she had friends, got to do things, and now all this was over. So she is counting the days until she is eighteen to try and escape. But how, with no car and no money?

All the mother and the church ladies and girls her age have to look forward to are getting married (the parents decide to whom) and do more. No thanks! She does not want to marry any of these losers under the control of their strict religious-cult like families. She wants to escape this control.

(love this) She simply wants to eat at Olive Garden, maybe in a lovely prom dress, go roller skating, get her ears pierced, wear regular clothes, sign up for college classes, style her hair the way she wants and wear normal clothes, and be able to watch TV, read books, and use the internet. She has never dated nor allowed.

When she disobeys or rebels, she gets a belt whipping and anything else they can think of to make her feel like she is in prison. When she hides anything, her mom finds it and gets rid of it, calling it Satan.

There is an entire world out there to see. She does not understand why her younger sister, brothers, and this whole town are satisfied to live like this.

She is homeschooled which is useless, and her mom even took away her Laura Ingall and her Narnia books which are not God-like, per her mom and dad. (no books, that is torture in itself)

No TV, no internet, no makeup, no going anywhere except to church and the farm-stand where they sell their goods and plenty of work around the farm. No short hair, no clothes except these long plain dresses. No camera, no phone, computer, public school, no cable, no social media, and this farm was a death sentence, but she could not see an end date or an escape plan. Her mom even gave her a Guide for Godly Girls. OMG!

Sarabeth’s family left Church of Christ the Redeemer to join her new friend, Retta’s family, for the more stringent Holy Rock. These people are pure evil and hypocrites.

The only escape—the neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Darling. They had a TV and their grandson, Tom (loved him) lived with them after his dad’s tragic accident and suicide. Tom got to use internet and watch TV. So she found a way to start going over to their house to do some baking for them. Then the one day the grandparents were away, she and Tom would have the day to watch TV, get on the internet and have fun. But this was a secret. She lived for this. Until the stupid creepy pervert grandpa’s cousin comes to stay with them. One more crazy to stay away from. He ruins their fun.

As the book opens, we flashback to Sarabeth when she was seventeen. She is kidnapped, blindfolded, and chained in a basement or somewhere dark and musty for a week before managing to escape. But after a week or so, she is dropped off on the side of the road. Her parents had not reported her missing and upon her return, they just ignored it and acted as though it was her fault. No one, even the police believed her.

Someone cut her hair, and she had injuries. They put a mask on her so she could not see where she was or the identity of her capturer. She knows she was left on the side of a road for dead and was rescued.

However, this kidnapping did do one positive thing for her. It got social services involved and Midwest Victims Advocacy Network and she told them how bad it was at their home and she helped her start a new life. They got her out of Arkansas and into a shelter and she earned her GED and associate degree and learned to drive a car, manage a bank account and start a new life and job. Even though she never forgets the traumatic experience.

The author expertly unravels the events from the past to the present with the most compelling element, Sarah’s character. She is a driven, courageous young woman, and we as readers get to see her confidence grow. She is complex and troubled (which reminds me of Lisa Gardner’s women leads).

Five years later, she lives alone, still dealing with PTSD, with her foster dog, Gypsy, and works at an animal shelter. She also has a few close friends at work. She has changed her name to Sarah. She has put the past behind her and often thinks of her younger sister.

However, when Nick Farrow with the Missouri Hwy Patrol Missing Persons Unit calls her and needs her assistance, the past meets the present. Other girls are missing with the same background and criteria. She does not want to return to Wisteria; however, more than one girl is missing and she must do what she can to help.

Why are these young women taken? Who is taking them and how does the parent's fit in? (gosh, this was so good and unexpected).

She wants to keep her past a secret in Arkansas and does not want everyone to know about her tragic experience. What if this person comes looking for her again?

She decides to help out Nick and help find these girls. She is very intuitive and he knows she can help. Nick also has a stake in this which will connect the two.

Sara receives a wedding invitation from her younger sister, Sylvia, and even though she does not want to go back, she thinks she can maybe help her sister because surely she does not want an arranged marriage at age 16 and at the same time can do some digging for Nick.

Will her nightmares return? She cannot get pulled back into this drama now that she is standing on her own. She thinks she is in control, and her parents, the pastor, his wife, or anyone in this town has no power over her, but think again. She cannot trust anyone! There is evil is all around her, and someone is not done with her yet! Will she be able to escape this sinister town this time around?

What a book!!!

Between the new missing girl cases, their families, Nick, and Sarah’s own family, and everyone evil connected to the church, it is nerve-wracking and the suspense is riveting. Laura McHugh expertly weaves a sharply written, tension-filled ball of twists readers are unlikely to see coming. Trust me — my jaw completely dropped with this bomb reveal!

I knew at this point on; I must pull an all-nighter. To tell you how addictive this thriller is, I tried to sleep with an early morning meeting for an hour or two, but I could not stop thinking about Sarah. So I went racing through to the finale. It was worth it!

Evocative and atmospheric, the author’s writing perfectly blends a literary and psychological crime suspense thriller. This novel is blockbuster movie-worthy with an unstoppable leading lady.

Fans of Karin Slaughter, Lisa Unger, and especially Lisa Gardner will devour this one. I am a huge Lisa Gardner fan with her female solid character-driven books, and Laura McHugh’s writing resonates from the atmospheric settings, the intense emotions, both plot and character driven.

You know what the characters are feeling and thinking at every moment, and everything is going on around them, drawing you into their world. Yet, you feel the strong sense of fear, danger, and foreboding lurking. You want to scream, get out and, you wait with your eyes half-closed for the train wreck to unfold with heart-pounding intensity.

I fell in love with Sarah and rooted for her from beginning to end. This is one of the best thrillers I have read this year from this bizarre family, neighbors, church, and entire town brainwashed by the local church leaders —a Top Book and cannot wait to read more of her stories. What a fabulous storyteller.

PLEASE: I am hoping to see more of Sarah in future books and a spin off. More Sarah, Nick, and Tom. Sarah reminds me of Gardner's Flora Dane and Frankie Elkin.

This was my first read by Laura, and it will not be my last. I have quickly started buying her backlist of books to read in between all the ARCs I have.

I am thrilled to have found this new favorite author. She has outdone herself and landed on my Top Books of 2021 and author list. This is a MUST READ! Thriller fans, get ready. WHAT’S DONE IN DARKNESS will consume you.

Wow, between reading “Confess to Me, What’s Done in Darkness, and The Woman They could Not Silence" back to back - talk about control, manipulation, religion, locked up, kidnapping, mental health, and especially power over women. These three books addressed different critical issues, but they all have combined themes - powerful evil people who want to control and manipulate your mind, soul, and heart for their own selfish sadistic purposes. In each there is a resilient, courageous and determined young woman woman that not only wants to help herself but protect other women.

Sarah reminds me of my very religious and strict childhood. I could not wait to escape my small town. Mine was not this bad of course. But I had a nosy little sister who told on everything I did, blackmailed me, and a nosy grandmother next door who looked out her window 24/7 and very strict religious parents. I swear I could not get by with anything. Luckily, I did manage to escape this small town while my younger sister stayed and still there.

Get this book on your TBR list now!

A special thank you to the author, #RandomHouse and #NetGalley for an advanced reading copy. Also purchased a hardcover and audio.


My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Pub Date: June 22, 2021


“Laura McHugh has been reinventing the rural noir to tell women’s stories, and her latest is a harrowing venture into a deeply religious community hidden in the Ozarks.”—CrimeReads Most Anticipated Books of Summer 2021

“Laura McHugh’s psychological thrillers are characterized by their deeply wrought characters, objectively harrowing situations, and their shared setting in the Midwest and Ozarks. In What’s Done in Darkness, a woman revisits her abduction as a teenager when more information comes to light.”—Oprah Daily (Best Beach Reads of 2021)

“Laura McHugh is already on everyone’s short list of crime writers to watch for, someone who just goes from strength to strength. What’s Done in Darkness is timely, but more important, it’s a deeply empathetic look at a community and place that are all too easy to stereotype. Compulsively, propulsively readable, it never loses sight of what’s really at stake for its characters—or its readers." —Laura Lippman, bestselling author of Lady in the Lake

“What’s Done in Darkness is a beautifully paced story of a young woman’s courage to confront, both psychologically and by novel’s end literally, an evil that might again entrap her.” —Ron Rash, bestselling author of Serena

“It’s hard to find a truly original thriller these days, one that’s populated with unique characters and a plot that feels fresh. But with What’s Done in Darkness, Laura McHugh has managed a new spin on the genre. From the suffocating isolation of a religious cult to the twisted loyalties of family, this page-turner takes readers on a journey into the dark heart of the Ozarks. A riveting, poignant, and propulsive read.” —Amy Engel, bestselling author of The Familiar Dark

“In her latest spine-chilling thriller, McHugh weaves a dark and delicious spell. Seamless, expressive writing, a voice like a crystal clear lake, an intimate sense of place, and storytelling that keeps the pages spinning make this a thriller that should be at the top of everyone’s summer reading list.” —Julia Heaberlin, internationally bestselling author of We Are All the Same in the Dark

“Thoughtful, compelling, and steeped in the secrets of its backwoods setting, What’s Done in Darkness is a cry for justice for the girls and women lost on the shadowy, ultrareligious fringes of the homeschooling movement.” —Amy Gentry, bestselling author of Good as Gone and Bad Habits

“This is one heck of a spine-tingler, and Laura’s combination of seamless prose, beautifully drawn characters, atmospheric settings, and plot twists to keep you guessing—not to mention reading—is sure to be another stellar hit. If this one isn’t on your Thriller Reads Radar, it should be!”

—Hannah Mary McKinnon, bestselling author of Sister Dear and You Will Remember Me

About the Author

Laura McHugh is the award-winning, internationally-bestselling author of novels The Weight of Blood, Arrowood, The Wolf Wants In, and What's Done in Darkness. The Weight of Blood won the International Thriller Writers Award and the Silver Falchion Award for Best First Novel and the Missouri Author Award for Fiction, and was named a Best Book of the Y

ear by BookPage, the Kansas City Star, and the Sunday Times in the UK. Arrowood was a finalist for the International Thriller Writers Award for Best Novel, and The Wolf Wants In was named a Best Book of the Year by Library Journal. McHugh’s work has also been nominated for an American Library Association Alex Award, a Barry Award, a GoodReads Choice Award, and a Pushcart Prize. McHugh lives in Missouri with her husband and daughters.

​A little more about me...I grew up in small towns in Iowa and Missouri, the youngest of eight kids, and I've been writing stories all my life, but a career as a writer never seemed like a real possibility. A first-generation college student, I earned an English degree, but then went on to get degrees in more "practical" fields—computer science and library & information science—and worked as a software developer for ten years, most of that time in the basement of an insurance company. When I was pregnant with my second child, I was laid off from my job, and that's when I decided to write a novel. It seemed like a crazy thing to do under the circumstances, but I knew I would regret it if I never tried. That novel became The Weight of Blood.

About my writing...My novels are often inspired by true crimes, but at the heart of each story, I am writing about families: their secrets, their tragedies, and the powerful, complicated bonds of blood. All of my work is set in the Midwest and the Ozarks, where I was raised. Website



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