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The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey

The Dark Lake


We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, Sarah Bailey, on your first book!

by Sarah Bailey

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Quick take

"The murdered woman is a teacher beloved by all—but no, as it turns out, she was not so well-liked, and why is that?"


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.

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The Dark Lake
When I think back to that summer something comes loose in my head. It's like a marble is bouncing around in there, like my brain is a pinball machine. I try not to let it roll around for too long. If I do, I end up going funny behind the eyes and in my throat and I can't do normal things like order coffee or tie Ben's shoelaces. I know I should try to forget. Move on. It's what I would tell someone else in my situation to do. Probably I should move away, leave Smithson, but starting over has never been a strength of mine. I have trouble letting go. During the day it's not so bad. I'll be in the middle of doing something and then my mind wanders to her and the little ball ricochets through my head and I stop talking in the middle of a sentence, or I forget to press the accelerator when the light goes green. Still, I can usually shake it away and keep going with whatever I was doing without anyone noticing. It's amazing what you can keep buried when you want to. But sometimes, late at night, I let myself think about what happened. Really think. I remember the throbbing heat. I remember the madness in my head and the fear that pulsed in my chest. And I remember Rosalind, of course, Always Rosalind. I lie flat on my back and she appears on my bedroom ceiling, playing across it like a lightless slide show. I click through the images: her in grade one with her socks pulled up high; her walking down Ayres Road toward the bus stop, backpack bobbing; her smoking a cigarette on the edges of the school oval; her drunk at Cathy Roper's party, eyes heavy with dark liner. Her at our debutante ball, dressed in white. Her kissing him. Her lying on the autopsy table with her body splayed open.

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Why I love it

Meet Gemma Woodstock, sturdy rural Australian police investigator with a life of determined stability and routine: work, child, partner, lover. But secrets from Gem’s past threaten her carefully constructed life when she is called in to investigate the death of a young woman she knew in high school.

The murdered woman is a teacher beloved by all—but no, as it turns out, she was not so well-liked, and why is that? And why must Gem keep her own history with the woman hidden? Is the murder related to the past or the present, or both, and can Gem figure everything out before another death occurs? Gem is a dogged investigator, but what are her true motives?

A live wire of intersecting stories, this debut novel hops and jumps with past and present obsessions rearing up, and long-hidden secrets surfacing like bloated corpses broken free of weighted chains.

Grim imagery? Perhaps. But it’s the sinister undertones that Bailey manages so well, keeping readers off balance as we rip through the pages of the book, wanting more, always more. And more, wonderfully more, is what author Bailey hands over, with cunning, patience, and skill.

Gem is always straight with us, her hooked readers, but she is also cagey. Slowly, the details of her past come out, connecting her—and us—to the present investigation. A history of cruelty and deceit emerges, and with every detail, the urgency of finding out whodunit builds. Only when the final page turned, did I allow myself to sit back and take a deep breath. I’d emerged from The Dark Lake satisfied, exhausted, and, I admit it, ready to jump in all over again.

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Member ratings (2,979)

  • Heather B.

    Sevierville, TN

    I really enjoyed reading The Dark Lake! Whenever I was halfway through the book I couldn't believe it, it seemed like I had just started reading! This book kept me trying to figure out “who did it”.

  • Erin G.

    Maysel, WV

    Amazing!! I loved loved loved the characters. The book had an amazing flow and twists you could never see coming. I wish the end was a little longer; it left me with questions about what happens next.

  • Hope C.

    Klamath Falls, OR

    It was interesting from the start and all I ever really wanted to know was who killed Rose. I never could try to guess who it was and it was shocked in the end. I love Gemmas character and personality

  • Amber B.

    Pooler, GA

    I really love murder mysteries. And female detectives. And female detectives solving murders. So this was right up my alley, especially because I hadn’t actually figured it out before the very end.

  • Samantha L.

    Gansevoort, NY

    I could not put this book down! Finished it in two days and was upset when it was over. It was a page turner for sure and I loved the connection that the main character had to everyone in the story.

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