The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey review

The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey
by  Allen & Unwin on May 24th
Genres: mystery, fiction, crime
Pages: 440

In a suspense thriller to rival Paula Hawkins and Tana French, a detective with secrets of her own hunts the killer of a woman who was the glamorous star of their high school.

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.

I won this book in a giveaway hosted by Books on the Rail so thank you so much to them! This in no way affects my thoughts and opinions of the book.


The Dark Lake is an intriguing crime novel set in the scorching heat of a small town in Australia. Complete with a deeply flawed lead female detective and secrets bursting to be unveiled, you won’t suspect the killer until it’s too late.

I wholly appreciated the setting of The Dark Lake, being from Australia myself, I could relate to the dry blistering heat of December, alongside the bushfires and countless other references to Australian culture. Although I’m not from a small town, I’ve visited aplenty and could envision the rural town of Smithson. This aspect of the novel allowed me to immerse deeper into the story and its familiar atmosphere.

The characters of the Dark Lake, although not always likeable were distinct and the further we pursued in the story, the more secrets began to unravel. Everyone appeared to be withholding something, and characters pasts were unwillingly dug up, fueling the spectacle at hand. The protagonist, Gemma Woodstock, a 28-year-old detective leading the case of Rosalind’s murder was a flawed character, but a fierce investigator. Gemma was far from perfect, with concerns revolving around her family, relationships and alcohol. And as readers, we are slowly introduced to Gemma’s past and some unthinkable mistakes on her behalf that may somehow intertwine with Rosalind’s murder. Gemma was an intriguing character, her life is practically turning to shambles, she’s very much detached from other people, except her coworker Felix, even though she may be physically present at a location or event, her mind was always just somewhere else completely. Gemma continuously appeared as if she was on the sidelines, carefully observing and analysing situations rather than joining in. However, in stark contrast to her personal life, Gemma was an incredibly determined and diligent detective. She stopped at nothing to solve the mystery of Rosalind’s murder and made large sacrifices toward the progression of the unsolved case. Understanding Rosalind’s death proved to be exceedingly difficult, Rosalind was an intricate enigma and no one could say they truly knew or even understood her. These perplexing and mystifying characters constantly ignited my curiosity, as mysteries were gradually exposed.

I haven’t read many crime/thriller novels to date, and to be honest I was anticipating more suspense and action within The Dark Lake. The book as an overall wasn’t thrilling, but there were some startling moments scattered throughout, as well as a plot twist that I wasn’t expecting and had me gasping in pure shock! I never did end up guessing the murderer, although I did have some unsuccessful predictions.

Ultimately, The Dark Lake was a solid debut crime novel with convoluted characters and moments of suspense set in the summer of an Australian small town.


The Friday 56 (3)


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