The Dark Lake hits all the notes of good grip lit, but I was never quite fully engaged. The plot follows a popular grip lit trope — a beautiful woman from the heroine’s high school is murdered and scandals from the past come to light. The heroine in this case is DS Gemma Woodstock, who grew up in the town and so is privy to lots of the residents’ secrets. The mystery was solid, and Bailey unveils various mini-reveals as Gemma slowly but surely uncovers the truth behind Rosalind’s murder.
Unfortunately, nothing about it really grabbed me. It felt a fairly standard example of the genre, with nothing quite making it stand out. I didn’t predict the big reveal, but I also didn’t feel invested enough in the story to care much about it.
The pacing felt slow, and the personal dramas around Gemma’s life felt like a bigger part of the story than the actual mystery. Unfortunately, her personal dramas weren’t all that interesting. She has a son with a serious boyfriend whom she doesn’t love but stays with because of the child, and she’s carrying on an illicit romance with her married co-worker. But the stakes never quite feel high enough. She’s worried about her boyfriend finding out, but she also wants to leave him so I don’t quite get what the problem is. She’s also angsty about her co-worker still having a relationship with his wife, but their romance seems more convenient than any great source of passion. There’s also a couple of random scenes involving roses and her son where the mystery infringes on her real life, but these plot threads mostly just meandered to a close. On one particularly dramatic event, the resolution came about so quickly that I actually missed the bit where the resolution actually happened; I just turned the page and saw that subplot had concluded.
The high school flashbacks were interesting but not quite explored enough. Gemma sets Rosalind up as a larger than life gorgeous creature whom all the men swooned over, but we never quite get a real sense of who Rosalind is. Even as an object of desire, Rosalind falls flat, and apart from being high school classmates, I didn’t quite understand why Gemma cared so much about her. There’s a hint of her personality in a flashback scene about an English class in high school, and I wish there had been more of that.
We also learn about Gemma’s high school boyfriend who died as a teen and left behind a younger brother. There’s a connection to the mystery because the younger brother was in a school play that Rosalind directed and that opened the night of the murder. And all of Gemma’s emotionality over her high school boyfriend’s death ties into the larger story as we learn more from flashbacks later on, but for most of the book, it just felt like an annoying detour that kept cropping up.
Overall, Dark Lake is a solid, entertaining thriller that unfortunately doesn’t quite stand out for me.
Thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.