In the second Creature X mystery, documentary filmmaker Laura Reagan travels to Newfoundland in search of the legendary giant eel Cressie. Instead, she and her team find a dead body, wrapped in a tarp (“like a taco,” a character observes), and pulled from the depths of Lake Crescent.
From the start, Lake Crescent is a much tighter and snappier mystery than the first instalment, Roanoke Ridge. Part of it is that Laura’s search for Cressie doesn’t carry as much emotional baggage as the one for Bigfoot. She doesn’t have to contend with her father’s legacy, nor rescue a mentor/father figure, so Dupuis can just take us right into the mystery without needing to set up all the backstory.
Also refreshing is that the question of Cressie’s existence isn’t the main focus of the mystery. As much as I enjoyed Roanoke Ridge, I had to keep suspending my disbelief to remain immersed in the world, because all the Bigfoot sightings and resulting debates had me expecting a Scooby Doo reveal every chapter. In Lake Crescent, Laura and her team recognize from the start that Cressie likely isn’t real.
So despite some attempts by her boss at sensationalism, Laura’s project explores Cressie as an anthropological study. How do legends like Cressie begin? What scientific basis can there be for the existence of giant eels in a lake? And perhaps most importantly, what does it mean for the people who live in the area to have that story capture people’s imaginations? Dupuis peppers his novel with fascinating research into Indigenous stories, evolutionary mutations, and so on. There’s at least one resident in the town who truly does believe Cressie exists, and even with the novel’s pragmatism, both Laura and the narration treat this resident with respect. As a result, I was absolutely captivated by the legend, and after I finished the novel, I immediately went online to see if Cressie were real. (She is!) There’s even a wonderful moment where Laura reflects on the ethics of her investigation — given Cressie’s impact on this town, what would she actually accomplish if she debunks the eel as a myth?
Beyond the fascinating stuff about Cressie, the main mystery in Lake Crescent, a cold case murder, was also very well done. I didn’t guess the villain or their motivations at all, and I loved the Agatha Christie-like feel of Laura actually explaining the solution to a roomful of people for the big reveal. Laura is a fantastic sleuth and series lead. She reminds me of Nancy Drew — intelligent, capable, and brave. But where Nancy can sometimes feel superhuman in her feats, Laura’s humanity feels more rounded. She’s empathetic, which helps in sussing out clues, and it also informs some lovely moments with other characters. For example, she picks up on the nuances of the complicated relationship a local blowhard has with his powerful father.
I also love the friendships between Laura and her co-workers Lindsey and Saad. They work well together, and are all smart and kickass in their own ways, but throughout this novel, Dupuis gives us many moments where we can see how their mutual respect has deepened into mutual trust. Dupuis handles his scenes of emotional vulnerability with a very light, somewhat restrained touch, and manages to make incredible depths of emotion come through. There’s a wonderful scene between Laura and Lindsey, where Lindsey mentions how something in the case brought up traumatic memories for her. Their dialogue is sparse, but speaks to a shared understanding, and by the time the scene ends with Laura saying she was there if Lindsey ever wanted to talk, I just wanted to give both of them a hug. I was also thrilled to see Saad trying on an action hero role in one of the later scenes — I loved him from Roanoke Ridge, and from what I said about him in my earlier review, I love the character growth his actions in Lake Crescent show.
Overall, Lake Crescent is a fantastic instalment to the Creature X Mystery series. As fun as Roanoke Ridge was, I thought Lake Crescent was even better. I felt like the series characters had more room to breathe, and there was a classic, psychological feel to the murder mystery that I loved. The novel ends with a hint at the next instalment: it’ll take place somewhere tropical. Anyone have any ideas what the next Creature X could be?
Thank you to Dundurn Press for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.