Book Review: The House Across the Lake by Riley Sager
This fast-paced novel reminiscent of both Paula Hawkins’ The Girl On The Train and Sarah Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes has plenty of surprises in store for any fans of thrillers with a paranormal twist.
Casey Fletcher is an actress living in exile on Lake Greene, in the Vermont hideaway of her mother, beloved musical theater icon Lolly Fletcher. Fourteen months ago, Casey’s husband Len fell into that very same lake and drowned. Since then, Casey has been an alcoholic wreck, losing her starring role in a hit Broadway play and becoming hot, messy tabloid fodder instead. Her concerned mother, as well as her cousin and manager, Marnie, shunted her off to the lake house to dry out, threatening her with a stint in rehab otherwise. Joke’s on them, though, as Casey still has access to enough alcohol to help numb her lonely days up on the lake.
Aside from copious drinking, Casey amuses herself by spying on the few neighbors still living there during the off-season. Eli Williams is a former best-selling novelist who functions as the small community’s neighborhood watch. Boone Conrad is the guy temporarily living at the absent Mitchells’ while he does some light repair work on their house. Most interesting to Casey though are Tom and Katherine Royce, the glamorous couple who live directly across the lake from her in a big, modern house with floor-to-ceiling windows that face the water.
At first, spying on them is just a harmless, if guilty, pleasure. But after Casey fishes a nearly drowned Katherine out of the lake one evening, resulting in the two women striking up a quick friendship, she starts to feel more protective of the retired supermodel whose marital issues are becoming more and more distressingly obvious:
I lower the binoculars, unnerved by what I just saw, although I can’t articulate why. I want to think it stems from getting yet another unfiltered glimpse of someone else’s life. Or maybe it’s simply guilt over convincing myself it was okay to yet again watch something I was never supposed to see. As a result, I’m turning what I saw into something bigger than it really is. The proverbial mountain out of a molehill.
Yet I can’t shake the way Katherine reacted the moment she realized Tom had entered the room.
Lifted out of her chair.
Panic writ large on her face.
When Katherine disappears a few days later without returning any of Casey’s calls or messages, Casey begins to worry that Tom has done something to her friend. Unfortunately, all she has is circumstantial evidence. Perhaps Katherine really did take off for the city—as Tom claims—after one marital spat too many, and isn’t answering her phone in an attempt at digital detox. The local police are sympathetic but skeptical of Casey’s allegations, even if she does have one unexpected ally in her corner, when Boone comes to her rescue after a risky investigative excursion:
“How did you know I was there?”
The answer, I realize, is gripped in Boone’s right hand.
Handing them to me, he says, “I borrowed them after I saw you walking past the house. I knew what you were up to and ran onto your porch to keep watch.”
“Why didn’t you stop me from going?”
“Because I was thinking about doing it myself.”
“But you just told me it was stupid and dangerous.”
“It was,” Boone says. “That doesn’t mean it wasn’t necessary.”
As Casey and Boone team up to get to the bottom of what happened to Katherine, they discover unnerving connections to the disappearances of three local women over the course of the past few years. Could Katherine be the latest victim of a serial killer preying on the less fortunate in their secluded, well-to-do area? Lake Greene hides more than one secret in its murky depths, as a looming tropical storm threatens to unleash even more havoc than the lake’s inhabitants have created for one another and for themselves.
I greatly admire the way Riley Sager plots and foreshadows his twisty narrative, as Casey must untangle multiple webs of deception in order to discover the ultimate truth. I do admit that as a fan of both mystery and horror novels, I prefer when paranormal elements are clearly marked as such before I get into a book, a legacy of my grounding in and admiration for the fair-play mystery tradition. That said, the non-paranormal plot reversals in this are excellently done, and the supernatural itself dealt with aplomb. While I did find some of Casey’s choices—particularly those made while under the influence of alcohol—maddening at best, I did admire the way she rolled with the punches, and particularly her newfound determination at the end of the novel. Definitely recommended for people who enjoy a good spooky mystery, or perhaps a good mysterious horror thriller.