"What's Done in Darkness," Reviewed by Chris Stuckenschneider
Updated: Jul 5
It’s a joy to see Missouri author Laura McHugh enjoying such success in the literary world. Her new book, “What’s Done in Darkness” is her best book yet.
Some locals may remember McHugh because of her visit to Washington Public Library. She came to town in 2019 to present on “The Wolf Wants In,” an event sponsored by the Friends of the Library.
Prior to success with that page-turner, McHugh penned “Arrowood,” a gothic whodunit, and “The Weight of Blood,” her debut offering, also an engrossing read.
I’ve paged through them all, and it’s a delight to see McHugh develop into a writer of merit, talented at creating characters readers grow to care about, and plots that ensnare from the get go, with wholly credible resolutions.
“What’s Done in Darkness” is a standout about a girl mistreated by her family and church community. It’s getting rave reviews and a hearty nod from Oprah who named it “One of 2021’s Best Beach Reads.”
It’s my new McHugh favorite, a tale set in Missouri and Arkansas that lays bare the nightmare a 17-year-old endures when she’s kidnapped and held hostage for a week, then released.
Five years after Sarabeth’s horrific experience, two more girls vanish and Sarah, as she’s now known, gets a call from Missouri State Highway Patrolman Nick Farrow. He tells Sarah there might be a connection between her abduction and the girls’ disappearances. Can she help him with the investigation?
Though Sarah doesn’t want to return to face bad memories and be with her religious zealot family, she feels pressure because her 16-year-old sister is getting married, an arranged marriage, a common practice for those attending the Holy Rock Church, run by Pastor Rick, an extremist. Sarah is hoping she can save her sister from her plight.
Alternating chapters narrated by Sarabeth and Sarah illustrate how Sarabeth’s strict, warped upbringing affects her as a teen and a woman. Her father beats Sarabeth with a belt for ridiculously minor infractions, her mother going along with him, believing a man is the head of the family.
When Sarabeth doesn’t comply with the rules, her resistance causes near-fatal repercussions that play out with the pages flying. “What’s Done in Darkness” is at once a smart mystery and a story of religious fanaticism—a fascinating combination that makes for a must-read.
Another plus are the references to places like Lambert’s Café, the home of throwed rolls, that area readers will be familiar with.