Amy’s always felt like something’s been missing in her life, but as a nanny for the Laurent family – Julia, Alain, Viviane – she feels complete. So Amy wouldn’t think of leaving them when a sudden tragedy forces them to move from France to the small lakeside cottage in the isolated Somerset village where Julia grew up.
But there’s something strange about the cottage by the lake. This is where Julia spent her childhood. But she used to have an older sister, Caroline, whom she rarely speaks about… Who disappeared at just seventeen…
Who has a secret the whole village wants kept hidden for ever…
The Secret of the Lake is a gothic thriller in the style of Daphne du Maurier but while the writing does manage to evoke an increasing sense of creepiness, the novel is let down by its predictable plot. Just as du Maurier liked to use the setting to create a atmosphere in her novels, Douglas successfully follows suit by making good use of lengthy descriptions of the lake to create a gloomy atmosphere that becomes increasingly sinister. The descriptive passages are well written and they succeed in bringing the setting to life so much so the lake becomes a character in its own right and you know when the surface is stormy, things are going to get bad.
The cottage itself is just as dreary as its surroundings and I liked how Douglas described it as a place that seemed to suck the life out of anyone or anything that came through the door. Between the lake and the cottage, it is hardly surprising Julia and Viviane are having a hard time coming to terms with their grief and it is down to Amy to try to turn the cottage into a home although it seems like a losing battle. When Amy moves into the cottage, she immediately senses there is something not quite right and then Caroline begins to make her ghostly presence felt. We have all the classic elements of a haunting from chilly temperatures to sounds in empty rooms and objects moving on their own, all of which contribute to the creepiness already established.
At this point, Caroline seems very much a malevolent figure intent on manipulating Viviane into carrying out her wishes but it became obvious to me that Caroline was doing the opposite – she was trying to get people to listen to her. The truth about Caroline is revealed gradually and while Douglas does a decent job of stringing the reader along, some of the twists were less powerful than they could’ve been if Douglas hadn’t signposted them as much. There were a few points that were never fully explored, but I can’t really divulge them here without ruining the plot.
The story was also set in the 1960s which seemed to invalidate the impoverished lifestyle the cottage inhabitants were enduring as they could’ve easily applied for welfare instead of relying on the kindness of others but it was never mentioned. Part of me feels the story would’ve worked better if it had been set farther back in history where the village would’ve been even more isolated and the power held by the authority figures would’ve been even more credible.