THE DARK LAKE by Sarah Bailey: Book Review

A few weeks ago Jane Harper, the author of The Dry, gave an interview to The Boston Globe in which she listed books by several of her favorite fellow Aussie authors.  One writer she mentioned was Sarah Bailey, whose debut mystery Ms. Harper praised highly.  Since I enjoyed The Dry so much and blogged about it last December, I decided to read her recommendation.

The Dark Lake is an absolutely spellbinding story about how the past never lets go.  Gemma Woodstock is a detective sergeant in Smithson, the small town where she grew up.  As the novel opens she receives a phone call from her supervisor, telling her to go immediately to Sonny Lake; a body has been found there.  The victim is Rosalind Ryan, one of the teachers at the town’s high school.  Gemma is assigned to lead the investigation, and thus she must keep secret the story of her past relationship with Rosalind and its consequences.

Gemma’s past and present are fraught with tragedy and secrets.  Her mother died when Gemma was a teenager, her high school boyfriend died shortly after that, and she is having an affair with her colleague, Felix McKinnon, a married father of three.

Gemma is living with Scott, who wants to marry her, but although Scott is the father of their toddler son Ben, Gemma can’t get past her love (or lust) for Felix.

For reasons the reader isn’t aware of until nearly the end of the book, Gemma won’t reveal her past relationship with Rosalind, who was the most beautiful girl in Smithson.  But strange stories have followed Rosalind’s career:  there was an issue at the university she attended, then at the high school where she taught before coming home to teach, and innuendoes at Smithson High as well.  There are rumors, not facts, swirling around her professional life and, as Gemma is finding out, in her family life as well.

The novel is told in two time periods, Gemma’s high school years and the present.  We learn how unhappy she was as a teenager, certainly explained by the tragic deaths of her mother and her boyfriend.  But somewhere in there as well is her relationship with Rosalind and her fear of its becoming public, something she wants to avoid at all costs.

Sarah Bailey has written a spellbinding mystery, one that delves into the emotions not only of Gemma but of Scott, the father of her baby; Donna Mason, the mother of Gemma’s high school love; John Nicholson, the high school principal with a secret he’s held for more than twenty years; and Rosalind’s family, the Ryans, with issues of their own.

The Dark Lake is a fabulous debut for Sarah Bailey; the second Gemma Woodstock mystery will be published in December.  You can read more about Sarah Bailey at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

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