Pub. Date: 9/29/2020
Publisher: Polis Books
After being cleared of his wife’s murder, Todd Norman returns to her small Connecticut hometown in order to finish building their dream house by the lake. He is eager to restart his life and cast aside any remaining suspicious...but all of that is dashed when a young woman’s body washes up on the beach next door. When Tracy Somerset, divorced mother from the small town of Covenant, CT, meets a handsome stranger in a midnight Wal-Mart, she has no idea she is speaking with Todd Norman, the former Wall Street financier dubbed “The Banker Butcher” by the New York tabloids. The following morning, on the beach by Norman’s back-under-construction lakehouse, another young woman’s body is discovered. Sheriff Duane Sobczak’s investigation leads him to town psychiatrist Dr. Meshulum Bakshir, whose position at a troubled girls’ group home a decade ago yields disturbing ties to several local, prominent players, including a radical preacher, a disgraced politician, a down-and-out PI—and Sobczak’s own daughter. Unfolding over the course of New England’s distinct four seasons, The Lakehouse is a domestic psychological thriller about the wayward and marginalized, the lies we tell those closest to us, and the price of forbidden love in an insular community where it seems everyone has a story to tell—and a past they prefer stay buried.
A house on the lake. A mysterious new man in town. A body washed up on the beach. The perfect trifecta of happenings to be the start of a great thriller. One of the things that makes reading thrillers so comforting is that it's always about fitting the same kind of puzzle pieces together. There is a crime, there must be a perpetrator. There is your main character, who will have to figure out what's going on while, most likely, being in danger themselves. There are side characters who are either super helpful or super suspicious. Or maybe, just maybe, they're both. It is from these recognizable pieces that authors have been able to create something new and exciting every single time. But this is where drudgery can come from as well, when readers can predict all the next steps and the element of surprise disappears.
The Lakehouse, as the blurb shows, is about Todd Norman returning to Covenant to finish building the lake house the promised his wife, except this is interrupted when a woman's body washes up on his property. Except Todd Norman is called Greg in the book itself, which I guess falls down to changes in the editing between ARC and blurb. I also put some of the other mistakes throughout the book down to needing a final round of editing before final publication. But Todd/Greg also isn't the main character, even, of The Lakehouse. And his motivation for returning is never really addressed in the novel, only hinted at. The Lakehouse's narration is split up between Tracy Somerset, the new flame, Duane Sobczak, the cop, and Meshulum Bakshir, the psychiatrist. They all feel a little too like cardboard cut outs as their motivations are never delved in to too deeply. Because of this many of their actions feel like they come out of nowhere or are overly dramatic and nonsensical.
Duane Sobczak is probably the most fully formed of the characters and shows some actual development towards the end. He is a small town cop with a one-person team consisting of his son-in-law. He strongly believes in his town and in the goodness of its people. Drugs have no place there and neither do pre-marital sex, lesbians and murderers. Watching him come up against the real world is kind of charming but also struck me as very odd in this particular cultural moment. Tracy is a messy character that I think needed a lot more pages to develop her interiority. Dr. Bakshir feels like the odd character out, largely used for shock factor in some of the twists and turns. Aside from that there is a focus on drug abuse and sexual abuse in some of the female story lines that I don't believe was handled well or with any kind of delicacy.
I've seen a lot of praise for Joe Clifford's writing and was very excited to experience it myself. Unfortunately, as you might have guessed from the previous paragraphs, I was merely whelmed. There are a lot of interesting ideas in The Lakehouse which maybe needed a little bit more time in the oven, but in the edition I read they didn't quite fit well together yet. Some of the characters needed more development and attention in order to make them feel less like a plot-device. I saw the plot twist coming from quite early on but was looking forward to how Clifford would work his way towards it. Unfortunately, by the time we got there, many things did not end up getting explained which left me quite unsatisfied. By the end of the novel there were still quite a few plot threads that needed wrapping up which never happened. Finally, and I'm willing to admit it may be pedantic, but I loathe the title not separating 'Lake' and 'house'.
I give this book...
I had very high expectations of The Lakehouse but unfortunately none of them were met. Although I did get through the book quickly, I did not enjoy a lot of aspects of it. I may give Joe Clifford another go in future books, but only once complete edits have been done.