A hot summer. A shocking murder. A town of secrets, waiting to explode.
That’s the premise of this thriller and it well and truly sucked me in from the first few paragraphs which is the litmus test of any prospective page-turner isn’t it?! It’s an interesting and well written debut from Aussie crime writer Sarah Bailey, effectively told through the perspective of a female detective, who is quite the complex character; Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock is struggling with her relationship with the father of her child, having an affair with a colleague and clearly holding onto grief and events from her childhood. So, if you’re thinking of giving it a read, here’s my short, sharp review of The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey.
This moody tale starts with the murder of an enigmatic girl from Gemma’s childhood; a beautiful young teacher who is discovered floating in the local lake surrounded by red roses. Gemma hides (from her colleagues) that she knew her pretty well as she doesn’t want to be removed from the case but it’s clear that there was history and that it was far from a straight forward relationship.
So, who is the killer? Is it the dying father or one of her brothers, who all seem to be grieving but are not very close and appear to be harbouring secrets; is it the Principal at her school who seems disproportionately distressed by her death and perhaps had inappropriate feelings towards her; was it one of her students as it becomes gradually clear that she has inspired strong feelings in the past and that this might not be the first time that student/teacher lines have been crossed? Well you’re going to have to read it to find out!
And did I enjoy it? Absolutely. I really enjoyed the character of Gemma Woodstock as she’s flawed, passionate about her job and trying to make sense of her life, after enduring two pivotal losses at an early age; the deaths of her mum and first love. I like that she’s a 28-year-old woman, trying to make it in a very male dominated rural police force, under the mentorship of ‘Uncle Jonesy’; that she clearly struggles with her mental health and self-medicates with alcohol and sex to make herself feel alive. She’s no run of the mill character that’s for sure.
The rural setting in small town Australia appealed to me – just as it did with Aaron Falk’s The Dry – as I enjoyed exploring the underbelly of country living, with its glimpses of drugs and alcohol, particularly as so much of the crime fiction that I’ve devoured over the years has been British or American. It’s really refreshing to see a story told through a local lens.
I like how Gemma gets pulled into the story – amping up the suspense and personal nature of this case – with the roses left on her doorstep and her child getting drawn into the twists and turns of the case, bringing to life all our fears as parents.
I finished The Dark Lake and immediately downloaded and read the next Gemma Woodstock novel Into the Night and loved it; it was grittier, based in Melbourne CBD – so a very different dynamic- where we see her set up with a new partner and investigating the seemingly separate but intrinsically linked murders of a homeless man, an escort and a teen heart throb.
I highly recommend them both and am looking forward to reading more from Sarah Bailey!