2017 Reviews · Australian · contemporary fiction · crime · mystery

Book Review: The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey

Title: The Dark Lakethe dark lake tiny

Author:  Sarah Bailey

Published: June 1st 2017

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Pages: 448

Genres:  Fiction, Australian, Crime, Mystery

RRP: $29.99

Rating: 5 stars

In a suspense thriller to rival Paula Hawkins and Tana French, a detective with secrets of her own hunts the killer of a woman who was the glamorous star of their high school.

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.

My review:

Sarah Bailey makes a dramatic entry into the Australian crime fiction genre, with her debut novel, The Dark Lake. I was impressed by the amount of positive endorsement this book has received and encouraged my resolve to select The Dark Lake to read.

In the sleepy country town of Smithson not a great deal happens. When local teacher Rosalind Ryan is found dead floating in the waters of a local lake, surrounded by red roses, tensions in the small town run high. It is up to Smithson’s rising star and local, Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock to help solve this tragic murder case. Problem is, Gemma is trying her hardest to withhold a pertinent secret in connection to this case. Gemma and Rosalind have a dubious high school history together.  The resulting investigation into this revered local teacher’s death opens up a pandora’s box of secrets not only related to the victim but the town itself and residents of Smithson. It is up to Detective Gemma Woodstock to reveal the truth behind the murder at the lake while keeping her personal life in check at the same time.

If you are looking for quality Australian crime fiction that will hypnotize you from the start to finish, then The Dark Lake would be an ideal choice. I was enthralled by the central murder mystery, captivated by the characters and taken aback by the rich Australian based setting. In addition, what Bailey excels in is her portrayal of the police work involved in murder case. The level of detail and descriptions related to the nitty gritty of a murder investigation was fine tuned and really made this crime novel stand out from the crowd.

For a debut writer, Bailey demonstrates accomplished character delivery. From the local teacher and victim Rosalind, to the detective in charge of the case, Gemma Woodstock, the characterisation is always full bodied. Gemma, our leading lady, is our focal narrator. With the majority of the novel told from Gemma’s point of view, it is easy to develop a strong level of empathy for this particular character. Gemma is a complex and layered character, her personal life is a mess but this makes her all the more interesting to the audience. There is a strong touch of realism to Gemma, she isn’t perfect and her mistakes both in her career and personal life makes her completely human.  Supporting Gemma is a great set of local figures, from Gemma’s secret lover Felix, Gemma’s father, her investigative team at work and a medical examiner. Coupled with the local residents and potential suspects to Rosalind’s murder, Bailey has covered all bases character wise.

With a robust setting that drips with tension throughout, I was impressed by this first time author’s ability to convey her locale with precision. As the bulk of the action in The Dark Lake occurs during a long and particularly hot drawn out summer, I was easily able to envisage the heat, sweat and exhaustion of Smithson. I’m a fan of books based in rural Australian settings and Bailey does this specific setting justice. She is also able to project the intricacies of living in a small town, how people live in each other’s hip pockets but at the same time are able to keep big secrets from one another. When these secrets are revealed they have the power to shock and rattle the existence of a small community, as Bailey demonstrates in The Dark Lake.

The Dark Lake meanders along at a slow and steady beat, aided by the clear timeline of events headed in each new chapter. Plenty of time in the narrative is devoted to setting the scene, developing characters and their motivations. A bountiful supply of potential suspects and possible outcomes to Rosalind’s murder are explored. I know I had absolutely no inclination as to the circumstances of the murder until the final reveal. I think this is indicative of Bailey’s skill as a crime writer, to keep you guessing and keep you very much engaged in the unfolding mystery until the final hour.

In delivering my final word on this addictive new Australian crime thriller, I have nothing but praise to deliver and little to fault. The Dark Lake is a mystifying and pensive tale, choosing to reveal is deep seated secrets when it is good and ready. Layered and composite characters, an astute central mystery and a staunch Australian setting make this novel a noteworthy addition to the crime fiction field. I do hope we hear more from this impressive new writer, Sarah Bailey, very soon.

The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey was published on June 1st 2017 by Allen & Unwin. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of The Dark Lake, Sarah Bailey visit here.


3 thoughts on “Book Review: The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey

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