Is The Dark Lake Aussie Noir, Chick Noir or something else? How easy it is to fall into the trap of seeing every book you read in the terminology of a marketing team. With its unreliable narrator (Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock), the murder of a beautiful young teacher and a small town in mid-summer creating a suitably claustrophobic setting, it seems to tick all the boxes for Chick Noir (Girl on a Train, etc.).
However Gemma is also a pretty good cop, working out of police HQ, taking endless witness statements and arguing with her crusty, salt-of-the-earth boss, Jonesy. It’s just a pity that she’s having a clandestine affair with fellow DS Felix McKinnon while trying to keep the peace with Scott, her partner and the father of their son. This alone has Gemma on tenterhooks, while Christmas looms and the Australian heat makes everyone tetchy.
Then there’s the murder. The victim, Rosalind Ryan, was in Gemma’s year at school and the novel soon hints at some unfinished business between them, which may or may not have something to do with the death of Gemma’s first true love, Jacob. So while there’s a fair bit of your standard police procedural to the storyline, Gemma’s backstory and her mounting stress levels, a tendency to drink too much and behave badly add a truckload of suspense.
The story comes to a satisfying conclusion with plenty of drama and red herrings along the way, and Gemma finally gets to put away her murderer. We also hope that she has a good hard look at herself because, with another book in the series already published (Into the Night), we know that she can’t do justice to her job and maintain a personal life any other way. And although yes, Gemma is not always easy to like, Sarah Bailey has made her interesting enough to make you want more. Roll on book 2.
Three and a half stars from me.