Title: The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey
Gemma Woodstock Series Book One
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 320 pages
Book Rating: B+
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley
Rosalind’s secrets didn’t die with her.
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. Brilliantly rendered, THE DARK LAKE has characters as compelling and mysteries as layered as the best thrillers from Gillian Flynn and Sophie Hannah.
A stunning debut by Sarah Bailey set in Smithson, Australia, The Dark Lake is an absolutely riveting police procedural starring the deeply flawed but sympathetic Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock.
A police detective in the same small town she grew up in, Gemma is used to sometimes knowing victims of crimes she investigates. However, she is shocked to learn the murder victim in her newest case is Rosalind Ryan, a former classmate of hers. Gemma and her partner Detective Sergeant Felix McKinnon are soon stymied by the lack of evidence at the scene. Equally frustrating is their inability to get a sense of who the victim was prior to her death. Seemingly loved by all who knew her, there is scant information about her life and her relationships. Then there is Gemma’s puzzling personal history with the victim which is slowly revealed as she hunts for Rosalind’s killer.
Gemma is a brilliant detective but her personal life is a mess. She lives with her partner Scott and their young son Ben, but she is definitely not firmly committed to her relationship since she is currently embroiled in a passionate affair. Although Gemma loves her son, she is not overly maternal and she is more dedicated to her job than she is to either Scott or Ben. As the bits and pieces of her somewhat tragic past are revealed, the reasons for her fear of commitment become clear. Gemma is a sympathetic character but it is easy to become impatient with her lack of honesty in both her personal and professional lives.
The investigation into Rosalind’s murder is virtually at a standstill from the start. Despite her family’s wealth, she lived a seemingly quiet life with no friends or romantic entanglements. Most everyone at the high school has nothing but kind things to say about her, but the discovery of possible trouble at her previous job raises some very intriguing questions. An unsubstantiated rumor about Rosalind’s involvement with one of her students is just one of the avenues of inquiry that Gemma and Felix explore as they try to unearth a possible suspect or even a motive for the murder.
The Dark Lake seamlessly weaves back and forth between events from Gemma’s past and the murder investigation in the present. The search for Rosalind’s killer often takes a backseat to Gemma’s unsettled personal life, but these glimpses into Gemma’s past and present are absolutely fascinating. Sarah Bailey does a bang up job of keeping the killer’s identity and motive for the crime carefully underwraps until the novel’s adrenaline laced and action packed conclusion. An outstanding beginning to the Gemma Woodstock series that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the next installment.