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What's Done in Darkness

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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.

"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.

256 pages, Hardcover

First published June 22, 2021

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About the author

Laura McHugh

6 books1,220 followers
Laura McHugh's debut novel, The Weight of Blood, won an International Thriller Writers Award for Best First Novel, a Silver Falchion Award for Best First Novel: Literary Suspense, and the Missouri Author Award for Fiction. It was also nominated for an Alex Award, Barry Award, and GoodReads Choice Award (Best Mystery and Best Debut). Arrowood was an international bestseller and a finalist for the International Thriller Writers Award for Best Hardcover Novel, and The Wolf Wants In was one of Library Journal's Best Books of the Year. McHugh's latest novel, What's Done in Darkness, was one of Oprah Daily's Best Beach Reads of 2021, a Self Magazine Best Book of the Year, and Harlan Coben's pick for Best Summer Thriller on the Today Show.

Linktree: Laura McHugh

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 541 reviews
Profile Image for Farrah.
221 reviews570 followers
May 16, 2021
WHAT'S DONE IN DARKNESS is a decent thriller about a woman who escaped her religious fanatic upbringing but five years later is asked to confront her past to help the police track down and couple of missing girls.

The book is pretty short and I think that caused a lack of depth in both the world building and the characters, but it did keep it moving at a speedy pace so there was never a dull moment.

Also I was sure I had the ending figured out but I was completely wrong and I love when that happens :) :) 3.5 ⭐

𝘛𝘩𝘢𝘯𝘬 𝘺𝘰𝘶 𝘕𝘦𝘵𝘎𝘢𝘭𝘭𝘦𝘺 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘱𝘶𝘣𝘭𝘪𝘴𝘩𝘦𝘳 𝘧𝘰𝘳 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘢𝘥𝘷𝘢𝘯𝘤𝘦 𝘤𝘰𝘱𝘺.
𝘙𝘦𝘭𝘦𝘢𝘴𝘦𝘥 𝘪𝘯 𝘑𝘶𝘯𝘦 22𝘯𝘥.
Profile Image for Julie .
4,025 reviews58.9k followers
September 26, 2021
What’s Done in Darkness by Laura McHugh is a 2021 Random House publication.

In rural Arkansas, seventeen-year-old, Sarabeth, is abducted and held hostage for five days. She was miraculously found, but her abductor was never caught. Despite the horrendous trauma she endured, this event serves as a catalyst for her to finally escape her ultra-fanatical religious parents.

She left home, shortened her name to Sarah, and works at an animal shelter. She still lives with nightmares of being held hostage- by both her parents, in one way, and her abductor, in another. She worries about her little sister who is about to be married too soon, fated to a life Sarah only barely managed to escape, herself.

While none of her friends or colleagues are aware of her past, she is still tracked down by a highway patrol officer, named Nick Farrow, who works in the missing persons division.

He calls Sarah asking for her insights and help in the abduction of a sixteen-year-old girl. The kidnapper’s modus operandi is eerily like Sarah’s experience, but initially Sarah is reluctant to get involved.

Gradually, Nick coaxes Sarah into helping him- which also prompts her to visit her sister- hoping to save her from the life her parents have forced upon her.

Oh, wow. Laura McHugh knows how to weave a taut, pulse-pounding tale of suspense! The Gothic tones of her novels are pitch perfect, and this one is no exception.

There is a heavy atmosphere, a strong sense of foreboding that kept me riveted to the pages. It’s edgy, but also a personal triumph for our heroine. Sarah’s is braver and stronger than she knows.

Her courage is what brings her case and other ones to light- and although she must accept that there are things she can’t change, she can live her best life- and live by example.

Nick and Sarah made a good team- and hopefully, we’ll see them team up again someday.

Overall, this is another great effort by McHugh. It’s a short novel, but it really packs a punch!
Profile Image for Kaceey.
1,066 reviews3,607 followers
July 2, 2021
Do you have plans this weekend? No? Good! Because once you start this book you will not be able to put it down.

Sarabeth’s life was turned upside down when her family gave up everything from their lifestyle to their possessions and joined a very conservative church on the outskirts of small town Arkansas.

Sarabeth’s siblings all took to the new lifestyle. Homeschooled. The girls in long plain looking dresses. No internet, tv or cell phones. Of course she is rebellious. She wants her old life back. Her friends…the mall. When she finds out that her mother has picked a groom for her and she is to be married by her 18th birthday, all her plans to escape now become urgent.

But before Sarabeth’s has a chance to leave…she is abducted. Held captive for a week in a dark room chained to a wall. Then just as suddenly dumped by the side of the road. Will anyone believe what happened? Or will her family think this was just a stunt to leave the family and church?

This was a taught psychological thriller that gripped me right from the beginning. I found myself flying through it wanting to solve the mystery behind Sarabeth’s disappearance.

My only negative was the ending wrapped up a bit too quickly with a couple loose ends, otherwise I would have given this amazing thriller all five stars.

Highly recommend! Will be looking forward to more from this very talented author.

Posted to: https://books-are-a-girls-best-friend...

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Publishing.
Profile Image for Liz.
2,018 reviews2,517 followers
May 25, 2021
This short thriller didn’t waste a page before it captured my interest. Which was just what I needed, because I feel like I’ve been caught up with books that take forever to get moving.
Sarabeth was kidnapped as an almost eighteen year old off the family farm. Her family had left the city when she was in her early teens, joining a strict religious church and leaving behind modern life as she’d known it. She had dreamed of escaping but not in the way it transpired. And no one knows why after one week of being held hostage, she was left on the side of the road. Five years later, she’s living on her own in another state but still suffering from PTSD. Now, other young women from similar situations have also gone missing and an FBI agent has asked for her help. Her 16 year old sister is also getting married and Sarah, as she’s now known, is debating returning for the wedding.
Told in alternating chapters, we see Sarabeth leading up to the kidnapping and her life now. I found the story engrossing and Sarabeth a realistic character. She’s caught in a kind of no man’s land. Life away from her family hasn’t gone as she’d expected. But she’s not comfortable with them either. I just really felt for her. McHugh totally captures the tension, worry and raw emotions that Sarah is feeling.
I flew through this book, unwilling to put it down. I couldn’t wait to see how it would pan out. And it totally took me by surprise.
This is the first book I’ve read by McHugh but it won’t be the last.
My thanks to NetGalley and Random House for an advance copy of this book.
Profile Image for Sandy.
873 reviews218 followers
June 20, 2021
Sara Shepherd may be only 23 years old but she's already been through more than many experience in a lifetime. At age 17, she was snatched from her rural family farm. She was found 1 week later but the damage was done. Her abductor was never caught & no one in the isolated religious community could look her in the eye, including her family. So she left to make her way in a secular world she knew little about.

Now she lives a solitary life outside of St. Louis & works at an animal shelter. The only "person" she trusts is her rescue dog Gypsy, another scarred girl no one wanted. Together, they just about manage the daily challenges that can trigger the full blown anxiety many survivors live with.

So when Missouri Highway Patrol agent Nick Farrow gets in touch, suffice to say he's intruding on her carefully curated world. Unlike the people she works with, Nick knows exactly who she is & wants to strike a deal. A young girl named Abby Donnelly is missing & he thinks it might be connected to Sara's abduction. In exchange for help, he promises to re-open her case. All she has to do is literally take a stroll down memory lane.

That's the essence of the plot but fair warning...there are some nasty twists lurking ahead. Not everyone is wearing their true face & part of the challenge is trying to figure out who is actually on Sara's side. When she reconnects with her family, it provides graphic proof that you really can't go home again, even when you do.

Chapters alternate between "Before" & "After". In the historical narrative, we get to know Sara's family & how they ended up living such a cloistered lifestyle. Even then, Sara wanted more for herself...further education, the ability to pick her own husband, etc. In present day we gradually learn that although she has her freedom, the great irony is she's still living a secluded & insular life.

Sara & Nick drive the story & both are layered characters. My initial impression of Nick was that his first name should have started with a "D". It's obvious he's not above emotional blackmail & manipulation to get his way, potentially at Sara's expense. He has a few secrets of his own & when his agenda is revealed we begin to understand him much better. So he grew on me yet oddly enough, I never really connected with this character.

But that's OK because this is Sara's story & it's one that will give you all the feels. Fear, anger, sympathy, disgust....at various points you'll experience all of these on her behalf. She's been let down by almost everyone in her past so trust is a foreign concept in the present. She's dealing with the culture shock of modern life as well as psychological trauma that lingers from her abduction. But as the story unfolds we watch as she & Gypsy take baby steps toward "normal".

It's a gritty, emotional read with an MC you'll root for.
Profile Image for GirlWithThePinkSkiMask.
395 reviews1,330 followers
March 5, 2022
Writing: 3/5 | Plot: 4/5 | Ending: YMCA creative writing class 1/5


5 years ago, Sarabeth was kidnapped and "released" after a week. She fled from her super religious fam and is trying to acclimate to her new life. Ofc her newfound freedom doesn't last too long, as she's pulled back into Wisteria to get to the bottom of the whole ordeal and stop it form happening to more girls.


Ok ok ok... Not bad. I LOVE a religious cult vibe, so this was right up my alley. The writing was average; no Shakespeare with the pen, but not a closed-captioned ass writer (ex: She walked Fred to the door and opened it. Fred left. She watched him. She went back to the kitchen.) I appreciated the dry, subtle humour sprinkled throughout. If you're religious, you won't like this PERIODT. The writer def takes a few jabs at the whole "this is His plan" in response to horrific traumatic events.

I kinda guessed what was occurring, but I really enjoyed the plot because I just love reading about religious whackos. That ending though.... trash money millionaire. It was slapped together like Cloud 9 trying to get the store ready in just 45 mins for the reopening after the hurricane.

All in all, if you are fascinated by religious sects and cults, this is for you. It's not a rubik cube like mystery full of wooooowwww say less twists, but it satisfies my sick need to know more about religious cults.


Pros: Interesting plot, good pace
Cons: Ending was not it in the slightest. Really just wrapping it up like the last 5 mins in a Teams meeting.
Profile Image for Melissa (Catch Up Mode).
4,562 reviews1,861 followers
June 24, 2021
Fast paced mystery, gripped me from the beginning. I pretty much devoured this one in less than a day. It's short, but has a fascinating narrative that keeps the reader engaged.

It alternates between Sarabeth in the past, whose family decides to live a more wholesome, religious life and shuns most of modern society for the strict rules of their church. Sarabeth is about to turn eighteen and really wants to go to college and be more like the "normal" friends she remembers in her early days of growing up. One day, she is kidnapped while minding the family's farm stand, held for a week and then released. Her family and the police believe she tried to run away and don't believe her story. The second timeline is five years later, with Sara living on her own working at an animal shelter. She's contacted by a police detective who thinks her case and that of another missing girl might be related. Sara returns home for her sister's wedding and does a bit of investigating.

I was fascinated throughout the reading of this book really wanting to know what had happened to Sara and the other missing girl(s). The ultimate conclusion was surprising and believable. There were a few things that happened that were a bit too convenient, but overall I was able to put those aside for the sake of the intriguing plot. The religious situations were extremely believable, I actually know people who follow similar paths in life and so even though it almost felt cult-like, it seemed plausible. I really liked Sara as a character and could sympathize and empathize with her emotions of both wanting to be a part of her family and yet wanting to be her own independent person.

I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book, all opinions are my own.
May 10, 2021
When Sarabeth was a kid, her family found God and moved to a small farm where she suddenly had to wear long dresses, follow strict rules, and give up most modern day amenities. As she edged closer to eighteen, she began to rebel, ready to attend college and leave behind rural Arkansas.

Then she was suddenly taken from the farm by a masked man …before being released relatively unharmed one week after her abduction. The police were skeptical about her story, unable to believe she’d be released unharmed after an entire week; her family didn’t even bother to report her missing, believing she simply ran away; and the odds slim her captor would ever be identified since she was blindfolded in the dark the entire time.

Five years later, Sarabeth now calls herself Sarah. She struggles with the trauma of her childhood and abduction, worrying people will find out about her past --- which means she’s not thrilled when an investigator named Nick Farrow contacts her. A young girl has gone missing and Farrow is convinced it’s connected to Sarah’s case. He requests Sarah’s help, asking her to return to the Ozark hollers she left behind to confront the past in hopes of saving the missing girl.

Laura McHugh never disappoints! She again delivers a gritty atmospheric tale full of complex characters with dark secrets. I appreciated the taut suspense and was surprised by the quick and convenient delivery of the climax. While it was a bit too neat for me, this is still an excellent multi-layered rural thriller I can highly recommend.

Thanks to Random House and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. What’s Done in Darkness is scheduled for release on June 22, 2021.

For more reviews, visit www.rootsandreads.wordpress.com
Profile Image for Diana • Book of Secrets.
780 reviews568 followers
July 2, 2021
4.5 Stars — WHAT'S DONE IN DARKNESS is a gripping dark mystery that made me super uneasy! I love that Laura McHugh sets her atmospheric thrillers in small towns around the Midwest, in Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, and now Arkansas — technically a Southern state, but close enough for me.

The main character is Sarah/Sarabeth, a young woman who has endured A LOT. As a teen her parents joined a fringe religious group and moved the family to a remote farm in Arkansas. She is stifled by the strict rules and dreams of escaping. Just before her 18th birthday, she's abducted by a masked man, but found a week later. This horrific experience ends up being her ticket out, but she won't easily shake the trauma. The police have no leads, and her case eventually fades to the background.

Fast-forward five years, and Sarah is still dealing with scars from the past, but doing her best to move on. She's contacted by investigator Nick Farrow who's working on another missing persons case similar to her own and needs her help. Of course that means going back to the family farmstead to face her past, but is she ready for what might be revealed?

Sarah's story is gut wrenching and really put me on edge. Chapters alternate between Sarah in the present and Sarabeth in the past, so readers can experience what she went through. I was engrossed in the mystery and the many dark secrets that were gradually revealed.

WHAT'S DONE IN DARKNESS is another gritty, fast-paced, and enjoyable thriller from Laura McHugh. The situations of unreported missing girls from the hollers presented in this book are probably more common than we think. Eye-opening!

So, Nick Farrow's character. I pictured him looking and acting like Detective Colin Zabel from Mare of Easttown. (Have you seen that show? If not, you must watch.)

I love the mention of Lambert's Cafe! I've never been there, but I see the billboards when we drive to the Ozarks — "Home of the throwed rolls!" That's so funny. I always wonder why someone would want rolls thrown at them in a restaurant.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Darla.
3,340 reviews524 followers
June 13, 2021
Sarabeth was kidnapped when she was seventeen and kept in darkness for one week. Five years later, she thinks of herself as Sarah and has made positive steps to put the trauma behind her. But has she really? When she gets the opportunity to informally assist in finding a missing girl from a background like hers, she reluctantly gets involved. That decision will begin to unlock the chains that still hold her captive. While I found this to be an entertaining read inwith captivating dual timelines and a satisfying finish -- this is not my favorite from Laura McHugh. My faith is a very positive part of my life and it breaks my heart to read about families who use religion as a club. On the other hand, the pet rescue elements of the plot were a big positive for me. BTW, my two favorites from Ms. McHugh are The Weight of Blood and The Wolf Wants In.

Thank you to Random House and Edelweiss+ for a DRC in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for JaymeO.
368 reviews226 followers
July 20, 2021
What’s Done in Darkness is a compulsively readable dark thriller about the abduction of seventeen year old Sarabeth. After her parents suddenly find God, they uproot their family and move to a remote farmland in Arkansas. Sarabeth despises the religious cult-like rules and longs to escape to the outside world. One day, a stranger in a mask blindfolds her and takes her captive. When she mysteriously appears in the middle of the highway in a bloody nightgown a week later, questions arise as to where she could have been all that time. Five years later, Sarah is contacted by investigator Nick Farrow, who would like her help investigating a similar kidnapping case. Sarah must return home in order to uncover buried secrets to help save another young girl and possibly identify her own kidnapper.

I have read all of McHugh’s thrillers and this one did not disappoint. It’s dark, atmospheric, and expertly plotted. I listened to the audiobook and the narration is superb. I read it in two days, as it is a rather short read, at only 256 pages. I appreciate that while this is a thriller about kidnapping, the abuse is not overly graphic and it is palatable to read. I did predict most of the plot twists, but still found this book to be enjoyable. It did a great job of engaging me from beginning to end. Laura McHugh is a fantastic writer and this book should be added to your tbr stat!

4/5 stars
Profile Image for Max.
288 reviews50 followers
May 13, 2021
This book has been getting a lot of rave reviews and I 100% understand why. You have a familiar set up with a character who has a tragic backstory returning to her hometown to confront a past trauma, and I think What's Done in Darkness really nails it on the head.

For books like these, I do like a lot of character development. The switching timeline between the past and present works better with this sort of story more than any other. Sarah's past is just as interesting as her present, as it allows the reader to explore these older events in order to puzzle together the final mystery and culprit of these kidnappings.

If you've read any of Laura McHugh's other books, you'll definitely enjoy this one too. A very satisfying read from beginning to end. Thanks Netgalley and Random House.
Profile Image for Kristy.
1,025 reviews144 followers
June 14, 2021
An excellent dark and foreboding mystery

Sarabeth is seventeen when she's held captive for nearly a week and then dumped along the side of the road, bound and blindfolded. She doesn't know who took her, or where. The police doubt her story and her parents do not even report her missing from their rural Arkansas farm . Sarabeth had argued with her religious parents, who insisted she follow their strict rules and marry someone of their choosing. As she returns home and finds her family appalled by her kidnapping, she realizes something good may come from the abduction: she can escape life on the farm for good. Five years later, she's now known as Sara when investigator Nick Farrow asks her to help with the missing persons case of another girl--one incredibly similar to Sara's. Reluctantly, Sara returns home, where she must face her darkest fears (and her family) to assist in bringing this girl home.

"Sarabeth had come to think of her time on the farm as a sentence that she had to serve, one with an end date. Now it seemed like she'd have to plan an escape."

I adore Laura McHugh's writing at this point. She's an excellent writer, and this is a great mystery in her deft hands. The religious, almost cult-like aspect of Sarabeth's family seems extremely timely in this era. We see how they narrow her options, forcing her to choose between her family and her own life. Religion and darkness are major themes in this book, with darkness playing not just in the title but across the entire novel. McHugh weaves it in and out of her story--Sara being afraid of the dark, darkness and shadows lurking at every turn. And it's a dark book to read too, even if it has its light moments. Still there's hope here as well.

I loved how Sara was a complicated heroine, with a complex past and many scars. She reminded me of Joanna Schaffhausen's Ellery Hathaway in that sense--a troubled soul who must overcome her own darkness to try to save others. Her interactions with Nick were an excellent respite, and I certainly could see myself reading about these two again.

"A piece of me was still there in Arkansas, but I was gone. No one in my new life knew who I was, what had happened to me, and I wanted to keep it that way."

The book is atmospheric, sucking us into both the deep religious aspect of the Ozarks and the Arkansas countryside. The Arkansas hills seem to play their own role in the book--another character so to speak. This one kept me guessing and even as I worked out some pieces, there were plenty of twists and turns. It's a fairly quick read, but an excellent one. Certainly recommend to mystery fans and those who enjoy a character-driven read.

I received a copy of this book from Random House Publishing Group and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review.

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Profile Image for Carole (Carole's Random Life).
1,719 reviews462 followers
June 22, 2021
This review can also be found at https://carolesrandomlife.com/

I really enjoyed reading this book! This is the second book by Laura McHugh that I have had the opportunity to read but I have quickly become a big fan of her writing. I live in Missouri and the fact that a large part of this book was set in my home state had its appeal. I haven’t spent a lot of time in the Ozarks but there were some parts of the book that described places that I am very familiar with which was kind of fun. This is a relatively short book but it tells a big story that I found almost impossible to set aside once I started reading. I am so glad that I made the decision to pick up this book.

This book is told from Sarahbeth’s point of view. Sarahbeth was raised in a family that became very religious during her childhood. She was forced to wear her hair long, wear long dresses, and leave school to be home-schooled and wasn’t always happy about it. As a teenager, she was abducted and held captive for a week but not everyone believes that is what really happened. She was never reported missing and no leads were ever found. Five years later, there are some similarities between Sarabeth’s story and the cases of several missing girls. The investigator, Nick, convinces Sarahbeth to come with him to get her input on the current cases. She will also get a chance to confront her past and see her family again for the first time in years.

I was hooked by this mystery. I wanted to know more about what happened to Sarabeth and I was really curious about the current cases. I hated that some of the girls didn’t seem to be missed just like nobody looked for Sarabeth during her ordeal. I liked Sarabeth a lot. She has been through some terrible things and was incredibly strong. Getting involved in this case was tough but she handled herself very well. It was very eye-opening to see her with her family and the community as a whole. When pieces of the puzzle really started falling into place, I was amazed by just what was going on.

I would highly recommend this book to others. I found this to be a very compelling and unique story that featured a very courageous main character. I cannot wait to read more of this talented author’s work in the future.

I received a digital review copy of this book from Random House Publishing Group via NetGalley.

Initial Thoughts
I really enjoyed this book. I have read one other book by this author and enjoyed it as well so I think that I am going to have to explore her other titles very soon. This book is told from Sarahbeth's point of view. As a teenager, she was taken and held captive for a week but not everyone believes that that is what actually happened. There are some girls missing in the present day and their cases have some similarities with Sarahbeth's so she is asked to help. I was really drawn into the story and wanted to know more about Sarahbeth's own ordeal and what was going on with the missing girls. The book is set in my home state of Missouri so it was also fun for me to see some familiar things in the story. I found this one really hard to put down.
Profile Image for Derek.
257 reviews68 followers
July 21, 2021
A quick (238pgs), compelling read about a woman who returns to her hometown to confront her unsettling past where she was kidnapped but left on the side of the road a week later. There have been a recent string of similar missing girl cases and a detective is hoping she can help connect them.

This is a well-crafted thriller that explores relationship loyalties to both family and friends. It's a richly atmospheric and dark setting, nestled in the Ozarks. Ones enjoyment will depend on their tolerance for novels that center around deeply religious cults.

I loved that our protag, Sarah, works for an animal rescue. This comes into play several times. Animal lovers will cheer!

There are several little twists that will keep you guessing and the pacing was just right to keep those pages turning. Ultimately, there's nothing here that's going to knock your socks off but it was still an enjoyable read. Could easily be read in one day.
Profile Image for Karen R.
839 reviews496 followers
June 22, 2021
Teen Sarabeth was abducted from her family’s Arkansas farm. She was found bound and blindfolded along a highway five years later. Fast forward to present day when she is leading a quiet life, working with animals, having severed ties to her ultra-religious family. She now calls herself Sara.

Enter Nick Farrow, a Highway Patrol Missing Persons officer who contacts Sara with the hope she can assist with a missing person investigation that resembles her own disturbing story. Sara is hesitant to dig into her past but Farrow convinces her to become involved. Is the un-named assailant of her past still kidnapping girls? What follows is an engrossing dual-timeline page-turner that maintains its intensity through its final pages.
Profile Image for Jody.
223 reviews63 followers
September 8, 2021
4 dark and moody stars for What’s Done in Darkness by Laura McHugh

Abducted as a teenager, a woman must now confront her past and untangle the truth of what really happened to her. Quote from Goodreads Summary.

This book does not waste a second getting right into it and I was hooked from the first page to the last. It's a short book, under 250 pages and not a word is wasted. It’s told in alternating timelines between THEN: abducted teen, Sarabeth and NOW: adult Sarah who must return to the home she fled to help find a missing girl(s).

I won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway and I’m so happy to be able to give it an honest great review. This is a good one guys, check it out!
Profile Image for Emily Carpenter.
Author 14 books930 followers
January 31, 2021
Hands down, one of my Best of 2021. WHAT'S DONE IN DARKNESS is Laura McHugh's brilliant thriller about a woman who must revisit her kidnapping that happened when she lived with her ultra-religious family. The menacing Ozark setting completely drew me in and the characters felt incredibly real, so much that I literally lost time while I was reading! My heart broke for Sarah, as she relived her past and tried to make a way forward, tried to help two other missing girls, and at the conclusion of the book, I was left with a chill I couldn't shake. This book is a masterclass in suspense. Do not miss it.
Profile Image for Carol.
2,407 reviews74 followers
February 15, 2023
It's the story of an overly religious family and how as a result of some of their beliefs deprived their children of what is perceived as a normal childhood. The story opens with the character of Sarabeth, at 17. She's working at her family’s roadside farm stand and trying to process the news from her parents that she finds disturbing. They had earlier promised that she would be free to make her own choices about her life when she turned 18...but she is told she is now to be married. Sarabeth will never be in control of her own life and readers soon learn why. Sarabeth's family has not always adopted this hard line nor have they always followed the teachings of the Holy Rock church, which takes everything literally with no wiggle room whatso ever. No more movies, cable television, the internet or public schools. Sarabeth and her siblings are literally prisoners without bars. Just prior to her eighteenth birthday, she is brutally accosted, abducted, imprisoned, and then finally, dressed in only a bloody slip, released. Her abductor is never caught. Five years later, living in the city, Sarah...she no longer goes by Sarabeth... is trying to survive. Employed at an animal shelter, she is barely coping until one day she receives a phone call from an investigator wanting to interview her about what happened to her five years before. Another girl has gone missing, and the officer believes that this new case and Sarah’s cold one, are related. Reluctantly, Sarah agrees and, thus, sets out on a journey to rediscover her roots and the malignancy that grows within. It's a compelling and dark, dark read that is steeped in secrets, some benign and others, deadly.
Profile Image for Heidi.
1,038 reviews212 followers
April 4, 2021
There is nothing quite like a segregated religious cult to create a tense, atmospheric setting, which immediately put this book on my radar. I am happy to say that I wasn’t disappointed! WHAT’S DONE IN DARKNESS tells the story of Sarabeth, a young girl growing up in an ultra religious family in the isolated Ozark mountains. Like her peers, she is expected to grow into a good wife and mother, married off in her teens to a man of her parents’ choosing and from there on bound to house and home with the expectation of meekness and servitude to her husband. But unlike her younger sister, Sarabeth remembers a life before her parents joined the church, and she longs for the freedom she has since lost.

McHugh does a brilliant job in creating a sense of claustrophobia as we see the word through Sarabeth’s eyes. Her only escape from her strict parents is to offer her help in the household of a neighbouring family, where she enjoys things like TV, books or music, all banned in her own home. Sarabeht knows that soon this small reprieve will come to an end, as her parents are planning to marry her off soon. She longs to escape, but how can she get away, when her every move is being monitored by her family and the church? Sarabeht’s escape will come about through an unlikely event – one day, when stocking the family’s farm stall with produce, she is abducted and held prisoner for a week.

Now an adult and estranged from her family, Sarah (as she is now known as), still bears the scars of her strange childhood. When another girl disappears and police ask her to help them with their investigation, Sarah will finally have to confront her past.

Rolling out in two different timelines – one in the present and one from the POV of a much younger Sarabeth – the reader soon gets drawn into the sinister world of a strict religious cult where you cannot trust anyone or take anything at face value. And when Sarah returns to her childhood home, she once again puts herself in terrible danger.

I loved the way McHugh created tension by letting a young Sarabeth narrate the story of her everyday family life. There is an undercurrent of menace here that really got under my skin and made me feel trapped like an animal in a cage, envisaging Sarabeth’s bleak future.

In summary, WHAT’S DONE IN DARKNESS is part mystery, part a character study of a young woman coming to terms with her ultra-religious upbringing and the trauma of her abduction and captivity that has ultimately freed her from the confines of her controlling family. It is dark and claustrophobic and oozes tension, and kept me in its grip whilst also touching my heart. Noone quite captures the claustrophobic atmosphere of Ozark mountain villages like Laura McHugh, and if this type of setting appeals to you, I also highly recommend reading her earlier book THE WEIGHT OF BLOOD.

3.5 stars

Thank you to Netgalley and Random House for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.

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Profile Image for Amy Gentry.
Author 11 books496 followers
May 7, 2021
Once again, Laura McHugh has written a gorgeously evocative and perfectly plotted rural thriller you'll devour in one gulp or die trying. 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, ultra-religious fringes of the homeschooling movement. With every dark, unsettling twist, it becomes more and more apparent: The Ozarks belong to Laura McHugh.
Profile Image for Sue.
1,240 reviews533 followers
June 14, 2021
The latest book from Laura McHugh is set in the back country of Arkansas where her parents moved Sarabeth, her sister and brothers to a very conservative religious church and farming community, leaving behind a suburban home, books, television, clothes, friends, relatives, their former lives. Now their existence was the church. The girls were to learn to be obedient and to become good wives and mothers.

Sarabeth fought this plan, rebelling against her parents and intending, one day, to leave and go her own way. But, before that plan could even gel, she was taken one day, from her family’s farmstand. Missing for a week, then suddenly reappearing by the side of a road, most in the community seemed to doubt anything had happened to her.

This did lead to a way out of the community, but not a way out of the constant anxiety, fear of strangers, need for but fear of answers about what happened to her. Then she receives the most unlikely of requests which leads her back to the back country seeking answers, some for others, some for herself.

As always, McHugh writes well, whether it’s descriptive prose of the countryside or the people, or thrilling descriptions of the action. I highly recommend this book along with her prior catalog.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Profile Image for Judy Collins.
2,572 reviews361 followers
November 23, 2021
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 WHAT'S DONE IN DARKNESS. Its overly religious Godly Christian facade gives way to deadly menace and dangerous secrets in this twist-a-minute novel, set in the Ozarks.

Highly creative, Laura McHugh’s, WHAT'S DONE IN DARKNESS is a unique psychological 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 are dangerous and sinister!

Sarabeth previously 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). 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 have a TV and their grandson, Tom (who loved him) lived with them after his dad’s tragic accident and suicide. Tom got to use the 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. She was tormented. 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 female protagonists).

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? Are these cases related to hers years ago? Who is taking them and how do the parents 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 assist Nick and help locate these girls. She is very intuitive and he knows she can help. Nick also has a stake in this which will connect the two.

Sarah 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? he 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, the upcoming wedding, 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 with 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.

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.

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 the hardcover and audio.

Blog Book Review Link:
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
Pub Date: June 22, 2021
Top Books of 2021
Profile Image for ᒪᗴᗩᕼ .
1,492 reviews146 followers
July 22, 2021
❐ Overall Rating 3½⭐ | Narration 😀 = Good
❐ Narrated by Jennifer Sun Bell
❐ Listening Length: 7H 16M
❐ Mystery/Thriller/Suspense
❐ Cults and Kidnappings


While the story itself, especially the ending, is quite satisfying, I’m still left feeling rather lackluster towards the story, overall. Maybe it just needed more depth, with more fleshed-out characters. I’m not sure that I cared about them or their outcome. Of course, I should mention that most readers/listeners have rated this much higher than I have. But either way, it was a quick listen with narration that was performed quite well.

🅒🅐🅦🅟🅘🅛🅔 7.19/❿
🅒haracters → 7
🅐tmosphere → 7.5
🅦riting → 7
🅟lot → 7.5
🅘ntrigue → 7
🅛ogic → 7
🅔njoyment → 6.5
Profile Image for Kathleen.
1,051 reviews91 followers
June 16, 2021
I have read two of this author's previous novels and, while this one generally held my interest, I found it lacked the same depth of writing and atmospheric intensity of the others. The overall story was interesting, but the outcome not particularly surprising. I found myself wanting more of the otherness of this close religious community and more of the main character's isolation. I think it would have helped to create that dark atmosphere and heavy undertone that I missed from the previous books. But overall this was an engaging read that kept my attention. TW: there are many short instances of sad/disturbing animal abuse/neglect throughout the book. Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for allowing me to read an advanced copy.
Profile Image for Jo.
1,119 reviews60 followers
February 10, 2021
4.5 stars
I always know I'm in for a treat with a Laura McHugh novel. This one was no exception. It kept me on the edge of my seat the whole book just wanting to read enough to see if I was right. I have no love for people who twist the Bible (or any holy book) to further their own agenda or control people. Pastor Rick and his church were just a vehicle to oppression of women. That makes my heart sad because there are flesh and blood people who still buy into women as second citizens. I encourage anyone who likes well put together suspense to read this one.
48 reviews2 followers
May 19, 2023
A well written book.
Parts remind me of the Amish & LDS.
Worth reading!
Profile Image for Megan Collins.
Author 5 books1,098 followers
June 28, 2021
I read this book in less than twenty-four hours; it was impossible to put down. Five years ago, Sarah was kidnapped, chained and blindfolded for a week, and then returned to her family, having never seen or heard her abductor. She’s worked hard to put the past behind her, but when a detective approaches her about missing girls whose cases are similar to her own, she’s catapulted back into her dark memories and the dynamics of her very religious family. She’s desperate to save the missing girls, but in doing so, she might just be putting herself back in the path of her abductor. This thriller is tense and haunting and filled with dark corners and shadows at every turn. A sense of dread hangs heavy over the pages, even as you’re eager to keep turning them. There are layers of mystery within this book, and Laura McHugh balances them all expertly, uniting them in a tight knot when you least expect it. I absolutely loved the Ozarks setting, which came to vivid life through McHugh’s standout prose, and I was fascinated by the accounts of Sarah’s teenage years, during which she squirmed beneath the grip of her strict religious community. I highly recommend this one to anyone who likes their thrillers particularly dark.
Profile Image for Basic B's Guide.
992 reviews317 followers
June 24, 2021
“A woman who was abducted as a teenager must now confront her past and untangle the truth of what really happened to her.”

With a title like this I went in expecting a very dark book. While this obviously deals with some serious topics, trauma is not used to shock the reader. She doesn’t shove unnecessary and often uncomfortable or even triggering trauma in our face. Thank you!!!!!! Instead what we have is a journey that is both suspenseful and healing.

The short chapters and dual timelines helped to set a steady pace. Although quite a quick and short read, I was left a very satisfied reader. I’m anxious to read more from this author and recommend you give this one a try.
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