Book Title: The Dark Lake
Author: Sarah Bailey
REVIEWED BY: CHELSEA
Series: Gemma Woodstock #1
Genres: Mystery, Police Procedural, Crime Fiction
Pub Date: 10/03/17
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.
“Rose was lit by the sun, her beautiful face giving nothing away. Even back then, she was a mystery that I wanted to solve.”
I know my rating doesn’t fully convey it, but I really did think this was a solid debut. As an avid reader of mysteries and crime fiction, it’s getting insanely difficult to blow me away in this genre, which makes it harder to find those 5 star poppers that are memorable long term. The Dark Lake was a complex story, as there was a plot driven case pertaining to this particular installment of the new series, plus heavy characterization regarding our main character Gemma and her personal life, past and present. The structure of the book was on point; I really enjoyed the way this was told and how varied the information was that we received. I only had a few specific issues with the novel, but I felt they were large enough to warrant rounding my rating down rather than up.
“These violent delights have violent ends
And in their triumph die, like fire and powder,
Which as they kiss consume.”
– William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act II: Scene VI
I feel like there are so many aspects of this story I can’t discuss here for fear of minor spoilers more than the major ones. One of the best parts of this book were all the tiny AHA moments that came about rather than the whodunnit at the end. As I read I felt I was rating it as two separate books; the police procedural and the atmospheric character development. When it comes to the procedural, I felt it was just ok. It wasn’t bad by any means, but it felt a bit standard and underwhelming. I will say I was somewhat taken aback by the who in one of the final scenes; it had crossed my mind at one point but the author managed to help me forget about my suspicions until it was revealed in the end, which was a nice experience. I did feel the stronger part of the story was the personal side, our introduction and courting of Gemma and finding out about many of her issues and faults. It’s no secret that I’m attracted to damaged, flawed female leads, especially those in law enforcement, and she clearly fits the bill and wears it well. Gemma is definitely not a likable character, but she is by far intriguing to read about and made me want to continue along even though I wasn’t crazy about the plot based drama.
I’ll be honest, there’s a whole lot going on here; between the present day case, Gemma’s personal life in the past and also in the present, some readers may feel it’s a bit too much to follow and cost them from wholly investing. Personally, I found it was fine to connect with all of this happening and felt it necessary to give us backstory and set the stage for future Gemma Woodstock novels. While I did have my issues, the author managed to completely hook me in a way that makes me desperate to find out where Gemma’s personal life will take us. Off the top of my head, I can’t really think of a series to compare this to, but it definitely had that wonderful vibe of UK crime fiction (although I know this one was not set there). As a current Book Of The Month choice for October, I can see why many folks are raving about it as a debut and why it was chosen for the subscription. The quality of writing was on par with many bestselling thrillers of late and I’m giddy to see where Bailey’s potential takes her, and us.
*Many thanks to the publisher for providing my copy via NetGalley.