Review: The Dark Lake
The Dark Lake, Sarah Bailey
Published October 3, 2017 (US), Grand Central Publishing
Rose was lit by the sun, her beautiful face giving nothing away. Even back then, she was a mystery that I wanted to solve.
The lead homicide investigator in a rural town, Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock is deeply unnerved when a high school classmate is found strangled, her body floating in a lake. And not just any classmate, but Rosalind Ryan, whose beauty and inscrutability exerted a magnetic pull on Smithson High School, first during Rosalind's student years and then again when she returned to teach drama.
As much as Rosalind's life was a mystery to Gemma when they were students together, her death presents even more of a puzzle. What made Rosalind quit her teaching job in Sydney and return to her hometown? Why did she live in a small, run-down apartment when her father was one of the town's richest men? And despite her many admirers, did anyone in the town truly know her?
Rosalind's enigmas frustrate and obsess Gemma, who has her own dangerous secrets—an affair with her colleague and past tragedies that may not stay in the past.
This was an October 2017 selection from Book of the Month, a new thriller from a debut author.
This is the kind of thriller that feels based in reality, maybe an oversaturated reality, but one with tired parents and everyone doing the best that they can to get by. The story is firmly rooted in the domestic and less in shadowy psychotic figures or deep spiraling mysteries.
One of the problems I had was initially it was hard to connect with Gemma in the first third of the book. She’s making terrible decisions, and while I want to root for the specific kind of feminism she brings to the table, I didn’t like how much time we spent on her relationship with her partner and “other man,” Felix. As disappointed as Gemma would be to hear it given her complicated relationship with the now deceased Rose, I’d rather learn more about Rose than Gemma.
There’s a handful of little third person chapters that generally offer some little tidbit of additional information, for example, someone noticing a woman cleaning out her car late at night, which they don’t find suspicious, but the reader knows why there should have been more attention paid to this woman. But most of this little vignettes only offer more examples of everyday life in the town, that make it feel too slice of life for my personal enjoyment. I’m the first to admit that I don’t enjoy slice of life narratives, and that everything to do with my own taste, and nothing with the author’s skill.
Then there’s the would-be twists of the book. Gemma’s reveal of why she feels the kind of guilt she feels about her high school boyfriend Jacob is interesting, and it’s all the more heartbreaking when one of the aforementioned vignettes from “Then” reveals that Gemma didn’t have a full picture of what happened with Jacob, and now only the reader does, which is compelling.
But as far as the “whodunnit,” I had my suspicions early on after a harrowing incident with Gemma’s son. Ultimately the reveal felt sad and a little weak, but the denouement led to some surprisingly upbeat changes for the main characters.
Goodreads lists this as Gemma Woodstock #1, and when the next Gemma-centric book comes out I’m on the fence about whether or not I’ll be eager to jump into her head again.