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The Secret By The Lake – Louise Douglas Review

The Secret By The Lake – Louise Douglas Review

the-secret-by-the-lake-louise-douglasLouise Douglas thrives in stories about small communities, especially when there’s a secret to maintain. In her eighth novel, The Secret by the Lake, Douglas very much lives up to that title, telling the story of the Laurent family – Julia, Alain and Viviane – and their nanny Amy after a tragic event sends them from the idylls of Paris to the small cottage in a Somerset village where Julia grew up.

In Blackwater, Amy learns more about her employer’s childhood and discovers some dark family secrets that continue to haunt the town to this day – even if the key to the mystery lies with Julia’s sister Caroline, who died some 30 years before. As life in the run-down cottage begins to unravel, Amy discovers that the mystery of Caroline and the secret by the lake may run deeper than everyone first thought. 

Part mystery, part ghost story and part romance, at times it feels like The Secret by the Lake doesn’t know what it wants to be, let alone what story it’s telling. The scene-building is suitably detailed and eerie and Douglas presents a crafted mystery, yes, but there are too many obvious red herrings for the ultimate revelation to have any real oomph. Rather than presenting a surprising twist, the mystery plays out in an almost slow burn of puzzle-piecing where you can see the whole picture just by putting together the outer edges.

The main character is also a bit of a disappointing heroine, displaying an unexplainably fierce loyalty towards her employer’s family when actually they kind of take her for granted and embarking on the expected trope of a romance with the only local her age in the village that feels like it’s included more for plot’s sake than any real thought-out emotion on Amy’s part.

Ultimately, Amy only serves as the mouthpiece for the real mystery of Caroline’s story, which is where The Secret by the Lake gets interesting. We learn about Caroline only through the stories of other people, but the presence of the character herself seems to be closer than we think. Through seemingly ghostly apparitions in the form of Viviane’s imaginary friend and supernatural forces at work, Caroline’s portrayal goes from defiant, angry teenager to vengeful spirit with a dash of overprotective familial loyalty and back again as Amy learns more about the girl and the secret the community is working to keep hidden.

Overall, The Secret by the Lake feels like it goes exactly as you’d expect it to – girl in unfamiliar circumstances discovers the truth – and it doesn’t exactly break new ground as it does so. There are enough small surprises woven into the novel to keep the reader moving forward and guessing but not enough to let anyone ever doubt the foregone conclusion of a neat resolution.

It’s a gloomy read with a lot of unexplained ideas that you’ll pick up for the promise of intrigue and stick with for the ghostly atmosphere.


The Secret by the Lake was published by Black Swan on 19 Nov 2015.

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