Louise Douglas is the author of five previous novels, all of which I have read and enjoyed. The Love of My Life, her first novel, is a particular favourite of mine. I feel that she really helps her readers get inside the heads of her characters and have a real understanding of their emotions. This book had quite a different feel to it, putting me in mind of the unsettling feeling I had when I first read du Maurier’s Rebecca. Amy was nanny in France to Viviane Laurent, leaving the family to return to England to care for an ill family member. When a tragedy affects the Laurent family and they return to Julia’s childhood home in England, she immediately moves in with Julia and Vivi to help them through a difficult time.
This is when the creepiness begins. The cottage itself is dark and damp, and seems like a cold, unwelcoming character. Vivi begins to talk to an imaginary friend, Caroline, and it soon emerges that Caroline was Julia’s sister who died when a young woman, in mysterious circumstances. Julia believes that Caroline was evil though doesn’t quite explain all that she has done. Louise Douglas has very cleverly made this part of the story really atmospheric and makes her reader feel really uneasy. The occupants of the house believe they see glimpses of a mysterious person. There are strange noise in the night from the empty room which was hers. There are strange voices on the phoneline and messages seem to be coming through the static of the radio. Although the story is set in the 1960s I did think it had the feel of a Victorian ghost story.
There is a long-standing feud between Julia’s family, the Cummings and a local farming family the Aldridges. Julia is reluctant to talk about this but it is clear that it centres on Caroline and the lake. Louise Douglas’ descriptions of the lake and the surrounding countryside are brilliant. The lake is ever-present – a dark, brooding, looming, menacing presence. I could almost imagine walking in the hill around Blackwater, they were described so clearly. Amy becomes close to Daniel, Mr Aldridge’s son, and the feud makes this gentle blossoming relationship very difficult for them. Gradually, events of the past are revealed and I began to suspect what might have happened all those years ago.
Louise Douglas has written another really compelling novel. I had to keep reading as I was so keen to know what had happened to Caroline, what had caused the feud and just what was causing the ghostly happenings in the cottage. There is an unsettling mystery at the heart of this story and there are plenty of twists and surprises to keep the reader enthralled. Louise Douglas has created a really tense atmosphere in this book and keeps up the suspense and sense of unease right to the end. A haunting story that kept me enthralled right to the last page.
Thanks to the publishers Black Swan for allowing me to read an advance copy via Netgalley and to Kim Nash for inviting me to review the book. The Secret by the Lake was published on 19th November as a paperback and e-book and you can order a copy here: The Secret by the Lake
The Secret by the Lake
A FAMILY TRAGEDY
Amy’s always felt like something’s been missing in her life. When a tragedy forces the family she works for as a nanny to retreat to a small lakeside cottage, she realises she cannot leave them now.
A SISTER’S SECRET
But Amy finds something unsettling about the cottage by the lake. This is where the children’s mother spent her childhood – and the place where her sister disappeared mysteriously at just seventeen.
A WEB OF LIES
Soon Amy becomes tangled in the missing sister’s story as dark truths begin rising to the surface. But can Amy unlock the secrets of the past before they repeat themselves?