Echo Lake, Joan Sauers
ECHO LAKE is the debut thriller from screenwriter, producer and author Joan Sauers. Set in the sleepy, scenic vista of the Southern Highlands of New South Wales, Rose McHugh has just moved to the area, as a result of a tumultuous divorce. This is an area she loved to visit when younger, and the little, slightly wonky cottage she's bought is just the sort of picturesque scene that she can imagine living out her days in, her faithful canine by her side.
The cover of this book has a few clues about the styling here - with one quote referring to it is a compulsive cosy, another calling it a pacy thriller. Neither mention the paranormal aspects that popup (has to be said pretty unexpectedly), although the media release did mention a haunting story line.
The whole thing revolves around the cottage that Rose has bought, the people that she meets in the local town, her relationships with her sister, her dog, friends she makes in town, and the discoveries that she makes in her garden. A very early chance encounter with a threatening man leads to some plumbing problems, leading to some digging, which ends up in the discovery of a roll of film buried in the garden, and from there, revealing information about the disappearance of a local woman. As the mysteries all start to build, Rose finds herself in investigator mode, using the standard methodology of women thrust into the role of accidental detective - a lot of talking to locals and a lot of wandering around. Although in this case, to be fair, Rose is dangerously close to being less investigator and more catalyst for chaos. As it would appear her beloved sister, back in Sydney, is firmly of the opinion is Rose's modus operandi in life.
She does seem to exhibit a comfortable relationship with thrashing about causing all sorts of "moments" - from instantly pissing off the local "thug", to embarrassing herself at parties, making friends with the local police detective (married / gorgeous) and his wife, through to stumbling on bodies, and encountering ghosts. None of which appear to have anywhere near as big an effect on Rose as you'd expect, although, to be fair, it's so cold in her cottage it could be she's got a huge dose of brain freeze for most of the story.
The author here is obviously going for that "woman of a certain age", "mistakes have been made", "slightly madcap" style, which combined with some excellent scene setting (screenwriter at work), did create something that was both utterly beguiling and madly annoying in ECHO LAKE. There were times in this novel where I was absolutely enthralled, and then there were times I wanted to pitch the blasted thing against a wall.
What worked - definitely sense of place. What didn't work was the stereotypical city people in a rural area shtick. What also worked was a reasonably good plot littered with some red herrings that didn't all pong. What didn't work was the twist, which came with a reek of dead fish you could see coming from the other side of the valley. What flat out didn't work was the paranormal aspect which was just so out of left field even a tendency to like the idea that old rural houses can be haunted, didn't give this reader enough of a reason to suppress a severe dose of eye-roll. What also didn't work was the meandering about, and the bush tracks that we wandered down, and, to be honest, a prologue that triggered so many bad memories of bangs in the night, negligees, candles and high-heeled slippers that I longed for the good old days of online book discussion groups and the pointed commentary that came with them.
In the sleepy, scenic Southern Highlands of New South Wales, a beautiful young woman goes missing.
Six years later, recently divorced historian Rose McHugh leaves the city to start a new life in the Highlands and finds a roll of film buried in her back garden. On it are photos of the missing woman.
Against the advice of an enigmatic detective, she uses her powers of persuasion and her knack for deciphering clues to pursue the case. As Rose searches through tangled secrets and hidden places haunted by the past, she realises there is a killer at large.
As she makes new friends, and dangerous enemies, Rose closes in on a suspect—but will she solve the mystery too late to save herself?