Book Review: The Dark Lake


Author: Sarah Bailey
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
ISBN: 9781538759929
Genre: Mystery | Suspense


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.


Let’s get this out the way first, and start with the fact that THE DARK LAKE wasn’t a bad read, but then again, it wasn’t a great read either. Billed as a suspense thriller to rival Paula Hawkins and Tana French—who I’ve never read—is setting this one up to fail.

This slow-burn police procedural has an erratic, and somewhat eccentric start that’s focused more on the MC, Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock, who narrates this one in the first person POV, while other scenes are told in third person omni. Making it a little disjointed.

As a character study of the MC, this one is rather quirky, and, as a narrator, who’s thoughts and emotions we’re privy to, Gemma comes across as something of an odd one and, quite possibly, an unreliable narrator at that. She’s certainly also self-obsessed with the deceased Rosalind (Rose) Ryan—who is barely fleshed out if at all.

This is definitely more a character study as there is little in the way of action, though the plot is complex enough to keep it interesting. How ever, there are no real surprises, and I felt like I knew what was coming long before it happened. The mystery surrounding Rose was okay, if not, a little underwhelming although there were a few enjoyable ah-ha moments.

As an opener, THE DARK LAKE was enjoyable enough if you realise the whole premise is a set-up to introduce us to Gemma, her backstory, and that’s she’s a damaged, flawed woman who doesn’t always make the best personal choices. But, as a detective? Is shaping up to be interesting.

That said, not an attention-grabber and not enough depth to make me want to read the next installment.

Rating: 6 / 10

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  1. April 17, 2019

    Great review Alex. I really enjoyed this book and rated it 8/10. However, though I usually enjoy damaged characters, I found that there was just something a little ‘off’ about Gemma Woodstock. I wanted to like her more than I actually did.

    • April 17, 2019

      I disliked the character almost at the get go, which didn’t set well, and then there was the writing style itself never mind the flaky characters. I just couldn’t be bothered by the end it just became tedious.

  2. April 13, 2019

    that’s my biggest pet peeve with publishers. I really wish they would stop comparing books to other books or authors.

    • April 13, 2019

      It’s become de jour, Lily. And yeah, very frustrating as we get our hopes up and can be let down, big time, when the novel in question crashes and burns, like this one.

  3. April 9, 2019

    So no hate but no love for that one either , sigh. I can relate Alexandra!

    • April 9, 2019

      It just wasn’t my cup of tea, and a little too slow paced for my liking, Sophie. I’m sure others might like it.

  4. I haven’t read Tana French yet but I did read Paula Hawkins so I have a pretty good idea. I am not going to read other novels by her – really don’t understand why her first novel was so hyped either – so I think that says enough 🙂

    • Alexandra
      April 9, 2019

      Indeed, Inge. I never understand the hype. This one was pumped up to be full of surprises and and suspense, neither of which were present. It was a very lacklustre character study, and, in the end, the MC didn’t come across as very likeable.

  5. April 8, 2019

    Well, it sounds pretty interesting. Not the usual kind of police investigation. I’m with Jonetta, kinda reminds me of that Tana French book. Maybe a little bit of the Malin Fors series too. A lot of attention is on the main character, almost as much as on the investigation itself.

    • April 8, 2019

      I like detail, Norrie, I like well delineated characters too, but this one was a little OTT for my taste. I really don’t need to know about her monthly cramps, or how she showers. Just. Not. Relevant!

  6. I’ve read the first book in Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad and think what you read is a lot like that book. I was looking more for a mystery and police procedural and got a character study in the mix. It didn’t work for me, especially how the book ended.

    Excellent review, Alexandra.

    • April 8, 2019

      Oh, well, maybe this is exactly like Tana French then. It wasn’t really bad, just not that compelling. And the pacing was little too slow for me. And I wanted at least some mystery and suspense, but there was very little, if any.

      • The pacing in my book was incredibly slow. There were two mysteries and a tortured detective whose personal life was analyzed ad nauseam along with the mysteries. In the end, none of them were adequately resolved. At almost 500 pages, I was angry. There are lots of fans of that book. I just figure it was me.

        • Alexandra
          April 9, 2019

          Probably not you, Jonetta. A lot of people rave over stuff that sometimes, quite honestly, I don’t think they’ve even read. At least, that’s how it feels to me when I read over-hyped books. It’s like, really, people loved this? Bah!

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