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The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey

Having recently read an article on all the great new Australian crime novels out there and discovering among those listed some I hadn’t yet read, I thought I’d remedy my oversight. The first book I chose was Sarah Bailey’s The Dark Lake and what a fabulous choice it was! 

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Centred around the regional NSW town of Smithson In Australia and a deeply troubled and flawed Detective Sargent, Gemma Woodstock, The Dark Lake is gritty, raw and gripping.

When the body of popular and beautiful school teacher and local girl, Rosalind Ryan is found murdered in the town’s lake, everybody seems to have an alibi. Perfect, a stellar teacher who was loved by her students, it’s not until Gemma and her partner, Felix, start delving that they find contradictory impressions of who Rosalind was – kind and quiet or manipulative and demanding? While Gemma is forthcoming about the fact she knew Rosalind when she was at school, what she fails to divulge is the impact the woman had on her and her almost obsession with her.

Added to the complications of Gemma’s relationship with the deceased are those Gemma has with others in her life. Whether it’s her partner, Scott, who’s also the father of her son, Ben or her professional colleague, boundaries have been blurred and Gemma is both troubling to be around and deeply troubled herself. But when the case and the way she is handling it affects her home life, Gemma starts to understand that the past is affecting the present in ways Gemma can neither control or prevent.

This book is so well written. While Gemma is the primary point of view, other characters are also given a voice which work to piece together the puzzle that is the crime. Added to this are flashbacks to Gemma’s school days and the incident that altered her path in life forever. Often unpleasant, undoubtedly selfish even though she’s a loving mum, there’s a lot to like and dislike about the main protagonist – especially her honest assessment of herself. It’s such a strength of Bailey’s writing that Gemma is at all times real – even when she’s spinning lies and dissembling – perhaps mostly then. The thing is, she’s at all times relatable as is virtually every character in the book. Likewise, the town of Smithson and its population are easy to identify with, thus the crime and its impact affect the reader as well. Tension builds from the first page as Gemma, Felix and the team get closer to solving Rosalind’s murder, especially when it appears they may have had it wrong all along. 

A marvellous debut work that had me buying Bailey’s next book the moment I finished.

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