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by Andromeda Romano-Lax
Soho Crime, May 2024
369 pages
ISBN: 1641295600

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The lake of the title is in Guatemala, where a young woman who worked at a posh writer's retreat on its shores has disappeared. She was last seen, perhaps, swimming far away from shore in a lake so deep "it can swallow any number of secrets." But no one knows for sure what happened to Jules or if she simply decided to move on and has neglected to stay in touch with her worried parents.

After her father returned from leading an unsuccessful search, her mother, Rose, can no longer stand the uncertainty. Under an assumed name, she applies to attend the writers' retreat where Jules had worked. It's run by the famous Eva Marshall, whose youthful memoir had been one of Jules' favorite books.

Once at the elegant lakeside estate where the women who have traveled with Rose to gain wisdom from a master of the genre, Rose finds she has landed in a kind of cult, where wealthy supplicants hang on Eva's words, even when they are critical. As manuscripts are workshopped, Eva dispenses insightful advice that sometimes cuts right to the heart of a problem. But sometimes she's simply cruel.

The story is told in two voices and timelines. As Rose searches for glimpses of her daughter's fate, we hear from Jules, who aspires to be a writer but is traveling aimlessly in Central America, avoiding applying for the MFA program she's told her parents will be her next step. She stumbles into a job with the writer whose work she read obsessively as a teenager, helping out with the workshops and taking care of the visiting women's needs, gradually discovering that Eva is not quite the person she imagined.

The setup may not sound promising a group of privileged people enter the hothouse world of writing workshops led by a celebrity with a mean streak but Romano-Lax creates a vivid world full of texture and feeling that is hard to resist. Jules' dawning sense of danger and Rose's pursuit of any trace of her daughter draws the reader in. Ultimately, the story combines a complex unpacking of motherhood's obsessions with a tropical heart of darkness journey past a facade of luxury and into a place that is very dark indeed. It makes for a compelling trip.

Barbara Fister is an academic librarian, columnist, and author of the Anni Koskinen mystery series.

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, May 2024

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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