“The Dark Lake” (Grand Central Publishing), by Sarah Bailey
Some high school memories remain into adulthood, returning to haunt you about the person you used to be — a situation that Detective Sgt. Gemma Woodstock is uncomfortably reminded of in the enthralling “The Dark Lake.”
Sarah Bailey’s debut delivers a multilayered police procedural with strong characters whose emotions both assist and interfere with their work. “The Dark Lake” also balances an intricate story of a community with an intimate look at police detectives.
Gemma investigates the murder of Rosalind “Rose” Ryan, found in the lake behind the private school the two had attended and where Rose taught. In high school, Gemma was a bit obsessed with Rose, a popular but private teenager from one of the wealthier families in Smithson, Australia. The case also makes Gemma remember her high school boyfriend, Jacob Mason, who left her for Rose, and the secrets that swirled around his suicide.
Gemma and her police partner, Detective Sgt. Felix McKinnon, delve into Rose’s fractured family, her seemingly adoring students and her aloof personality.
Gemma’s insight as a detective directly conflicts with her messy personal life. She lives with her partner, Scott, and their 2½-year-old son, Ben. She wants to be a good mother and companion, but ennui roils off her. Her affair with Felix consumes her, although she knows it could ruin their careers as well as her life with Scott. Her sometimes reckless behavior also puts Felix’s marriage at risk and could turn his three daughters against him. Gemma’s flaws make her immensely human — and her struggles relatable. Readers may occasionally want to shake Gemma and tell her to get her life together, but they are always on her side.
Bailey uses solid character development and superior storytelling, rather than violence, to fuel “The Dark Lake,” and she is off to an excellent start in this launch of a series.