This debut novel by Sarah Bailey had arrived but was still on my ‘to-read’ list when I started seeing it popping up on social media. I was intrigued by the buzz so got to it as soon as I could… and discovered the buzz was warranted.
The Dark Lake
by Sarah Bailey
Series: Gemma Woodstock #1
Published by Allen & Unwin
on June 1st 2017
Source: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Crime Fiction, Police Procedural
Rose was lit by the sun, her beautiful face giving nothing away. Even back then, she was a mystery that I wanted to solve.
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.
Gemma’s determined to work Rosalind’s case – worried however her past relationship with the victim will see the case turned over to colleagues – but she’s a favourite of her boss, Jonesy thanks to a case she doggedly pursued and (kinda inadvertently) unearthed early into her career.
Gemma’s an interesting character and the novel predominantly unfolds from her point of view. She’s still living in her childhood hometown. There are hints that she might have been destined for more, but ‘settled’. She seems contented enough however, particularly in relation to her job.
I’m good at this. It suits me.
From the beginning I liked the hunt. The endless puzzles to figure out. The permission to focus on one thing and shut out everything else. It’s a profession sympathetic to selfishness. I found it relaxing after years of blaring noise to legitimately claim tunnel vision, to dive wholeheartedly into something, to have an excuse not to talk to people, to justify my mysteriousness. p 11
Her personal life however is a a bit of a mess. She reluctantly became a mother, but now dotes on her son. Her relationship with long-term partner Scott though is strained. Of course the affair she’s having with her work partner Felix doesn’t help things and her passion and desire for him seems borne of a need for something more than just physical satisfaction.
Gemma’s telling her colleagues the truth when she says she wasn’t particularly close to Rosalind (Rose) growing up, but their paths crossed in some very poignant moments and Bailey does a great job of inserting short chapters about Gemma’s teenage years and first love Jacob. It’s important backstory as those chickens or hens (#whatevs) come home to roost. For Rosalind AND for Gemma as the present and past intersect in ways the latter could not have imagined.
Bailey also occasionally puts us in the heads of other characters – usually insignificant ones. I perhaps spent too much time overanalysing whether this was a good or bad thing and it was probably neither as it simply gave us some hints or clues to help us work out whodunnit.
There are a few undercurrents simmering this book, including themes around grief, loss, love and contentment.
Being a female cop in Smithson did come with its challenges, but in a way I revelled in those too. They gave me something hard and real to buck up against. A living, breathing obstacle that I could conquer; a stark contrast to the murky nothingness that was the deep well of my grief. The soundtrack of leers and put-downs that followed me around only made me more determined, more focused. p 23
I enjoyed this debut novel and will be interested to see if Bailey continues the series. She’s given us some interesting and likeable characters – in Gemma, as well as her boss Jonesy, local reporter Candy, medical examiner Anna as well as Gemma’s father – and I’d certainly enjoy meeting them again.
The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey was published in Australia by Allen & Unwin and available from 24 May 2017.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.