I need to preface this review by stating that I am not a lover of ghostly matters and The Secret By The Lake has plenty of spookiness spread amongst its pages. But… somehow this didn’t feel quite as out of place as it might have done perhaps because the book was set in the 1960s with reference back as far as the 1930s and they were allowed to have ghosts back then!
Amy worked for the Laurent family in their beautiful home in Deusables, France ever since she had left home which consisted of her father and his beloved pigeons and her Grandmother; Amy’s mother left home when she was a small child never to return. With that background the Laurent family became her second family and when the time came for her to return home to care for her dying Grandmother Amy desperately missed her charge, ten year-old Vivienne. Soon after her Grandmother’s death a letter arrives from Julia Laurent. In a sudden change of circumstances Julia and Vivienne are living in a dilapidated cottage on the side of a reservoir in Somerset.
This book goes in for eeriness in spades, the locals are at best reserved and at worst, well, this isn’t a village where I’d like to visit much less live! If making the cottage fit for sale wasn’t hard enough Julia is filled with melancholy. To make matters worse her return to the family home has stopped her escaping the memory of her elder sister Caroline, who died aged just seventeen under somewhat of a cloud. If Julia was the sweet pretty younger daughter, history states that Caroline was the exact opposite. With no money and a cold winter to contend with things are bleak for them all.
Despite my misgivings I was keen to find out the truth of what happened all those years before, even if I couldn’t quite believe that the dead were determined to communicate quite so frequently with the living. There is as to be expected, an element of romance which should have provided some light relief but sadly the ghosts of the past seem to want to interfere with that too! One thing’s for sure, they are determined little ghoulies! I like books that can successfully carry some side-plots, and Louise Douglas uses this to add real depth to her characters although I didn’t really warm to Julia, who even giving credence for her despair, was far too content to allow the action to happen around her for my liking. Fortunately Amy’s tenacity made up for this and her depiction of a 1960s child, the hardest characters for a writer to successfully make feel authentic, worked well within this storyline. The tension rose because of the intense feeling that the ghosts must be appeased before history repeated itself in some terrible way, and as the dramatic dénouement died away I was left with a real sense of satisfaction.
I’d like to thank the publishers Black Swan for allowing me to read an advance proof copy of this book which is published today, 19 November 2015, in return for my honest opinion.