CEMETERY LAKE is the third book by Paul Cleave, THE CLEANER and THE KILLING HOUR being the first two. None of these books are connected, so you can pick them up in any order, although, being lucky enough to read them in order, you can see a certain style developing in the writing.
CEMETERY LAKE tells the story of Theodore Tate. One time police officer, his life has gone seriously off the rails. His young daughter was killed and his wife severely injured by a drunk driver. Bridget - his wife - is in a sort of semi-vegetative state and whilst Theodore visits her daily, she never responds / never acknowledges. His daughter is buried at Cemetery Lake, and it's around this cemetery and the brooding, dark, threatening church at its centre that the story of this book swirls. Theodore is present when the body of man is exhumed - his wife's second husband has died in suspicious circumstances so everyone is assuming they'll find evidence of poisoning. Whilst waiting for the coffin to be raised, quietly, with no warning, there is a slight bubble on the surface of the Cemetery Lake and multiple bodies bob into view. Needless to say, all hell breaks loose. When attention returns to the original coffin - the body isn't that of an elderly man and the cemetery curator has fled the scene.
When his family was torn apart by a drunk driver, Theodore fell apart. Slowly it's revealed that the drunk driver - a constant recidivist, let loose time and time again by the court system - has disappeared and everyone, absolutely everyone, is sure that Theodore had something to do with that. Aside from the fact that there's some feeling of sympathy for Theodore and if he has done the unthinkable ... well blind eyes and lack of evidence is one thing, but a spate of missing young women in Christchurch have his former colleagues more occupied. The problem is that Theodore is more than just a bit lost, more than just a bit rudderless and even though he knows the body in the coffin (and the ones in the lake) aren't his concern - he can't stop himself from getting involved. When it gets personal he gets frantic.
CEMETERY LAKE is going to require some willing suspension of disbelief for a reader to really get into it, but after letting some questions roll (the obvious one being how many old graves can you really dig up with absolutely nobody noticing....) there are some incredibly powerful elements to this book. There are also some complicated and frenetic things happening, with Theodore getting hammered from all sides - lawyers with agendas; reporters with scores to settle; old colleagues who don't really know what to do; family priests and two generations of cemetery curators. There's definitely a serial killer at work here, and there is some bizarre connection between this killer and this cemetery, but it's hard to work out what until the story starts to draw the various threads together at the end.
This book has a bit of everything - a frustrating and out of control central protagonist that makes you sniff back a few tears at points, only to go annoyingly feral at others. There are shades of THE KILLING HOUR in the general ambiance of the book - everything seems to happen in the damp fog of night, and that Gothic feel is certainly assisted by setting the action mostly in a graveyard. There is some beautifully, descriptive writing at points through the book, although there is a stage - in the middle - where things get a little muddled and so slow down, but then along comes a ripper of an ending, with a poignant touch and out come the tissues again.
So I still don't really know who Paul Cleave is, and I'm really worried about where he's going to take me next. (But I'm definitely going there).