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October 3, 2017

The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey

by MK French


Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock is the lead homicide detective in a small town in Australia. One of her former classmates is found dead, and there is as much mystery about who she was as there is for who the murderer is. Gemma is frustrated by it, and almost obsessed with her, and Gemma has her own secrets that she is hiding. Her past tragedies aren't staying in the past, either, and the murder investigation is dragging it all back out again.
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The Dark Lake
October 2017; Grand Central Publishing
978-1538759905; ebook, audio, print (400 pages)
world literature, family life
The book is told mostly from Gemma's point of view, so past unfolds slowly. There are occasional sections told in another's point of view, some with reflections on the past from other characters. Sometimes those sections are helpful, but for some of them, I was left wondering why it was so important for us to know what someone else was thinking. Gemma has her self-absorbed moments, particularly with her romantic relationships; she never really got over her high school love that ended in tragedy, floats around, stays with her current partner without feeling much toward him at all, and is having an affair with her work partner. For all that she has instincts about who to chase down for the job in normal circumstances, she's oddly separated from her own emotional life. Maybe that's why she is so fixated on Rosalind from the start.

There are some doubts as to Gemma's sincerity as a narrator as the book progresses, particularly in the final third. We see some of the secrets she was keeping from her teenage years, and why it seems to be haunting her so much. It's nothing stated outright, likely because she doesn't want to explicitly link her past actions to the present. Some of her relationships seem to be falling apart in this section, but I found it hard to be very empathetic when she was cheating on her partner in the first place. The homicide is solved in dramatic fashion, and the epilogue ties off loose ends for the characters.

Overall, the mystery is gripping and drew me in. The back and forth of "then" and "now" and after in between the dated chapters of the investigation bothered me a little, because it seemed to interrupt the flow at times. One of the final asides makes the teenage secrets that much sadder, because none of it progressed how the characters thought it did, and it turns out had set forth the chain of events in the present timeline. I'm not sure if there is a better way to weave in these flashes of the past while still keeping the story at Gemma's point of view.

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Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and golden retriever. 


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