Stranger In The Lake By Kimberly Belle
Oh, my. There is so much I want to say upfront about Kimberly Belle’s latest humdinger, Stranger in the Lake that the readability factor is gonna kill me because this section is gonna ring out at over three-hundred words. Let’s see. First, I BEAT Kimberly Belle THIS TIME. I was prepared. If anyone was around for last year’s summer fling, I had the honor of reviewing and interviewing Kimberly Belle for the release of Dear Wife. That was my introduction to her work.
I wasn’t prepared to be so swooped up in Dear Wife that I fell asleep with my kindle in my hand, over my head. Thus, allowing it to fall and thwack me in the nose. My bad. This time. I came in prepared. I didn’t read Stranger in the Lake like that, nope. So, it couldn’t happen. HA! Plus, I read it during the day, in one sitting. I doubled down on that precaution. If you notice I just gave you a clue. I
read devoured Stranger in the Lake in one sitting. Kimberly Belle was not going to have a chance to break my nose, this time around. Having said that, my mouth might have been opened in shock so much that it was a good thing my Kindle is water-resistant. There was much drool. Also…
Make sure to come back tomorrow for my Q and A with Kimberly Belle!
But of course, the setting is Lake Crosby. Because. Of course, it is. No, this was not planned. No, I did not know. I did not know until I read the beginning of the ARC. Only in an Adult Psychological Thriller about a town full of secrets and dead bodies, would anyone name anything after me (even accidentally, not on purpose, she had no idea). This is my life, and this is karma. I’m just going to leave this here and move on.
I have not yet read all of Ms. Belle’s work, YET (shame on me, but I’m getting there… I’m tearing through backlist books this summer like the world is going to … oh wait, it is). Stranger in the Lake is a completely different novel than Dear Wife. COMPLETELY. The structure, narrative, voice, set-up, everything, is different. This is a psychological thriller, mystery, more than anything else. There isn’t an unreliable narrator or reader (see my review of Dear Wife). And to be honest? I’m not a big fan of mysteries that don’t have a twist on them, but this really had me in its grips for multiple reasons. And if it had me on the edge of my seat. Readers who lean towards psychological thrillers that bend into mystery will trip all over themselves while reading Stranger in the Lake.
There is such an array of characters, secrets, and socioeconomic statuses in Stranger in the Lake that it almost has a Knives Out kind of feel to it. Not fully, not at all. Just in isolated moments and plot points. Not the entire content. I don’t want to give that impression. The characters don’t know how to not make themselves look guilty or protect people without actually putting them in more danger or realize that what they think is an unselfish act is, in actuality, completely done in self-preservation.
Plus, Kimberly Belle nails one of my favorite things a psychological thriller can do. There are these dropped bits of deadpanned sarcasm/dark humor that had me cackling. As I have mentioned before, I have a very dark sense of humor. Some may not find them funny. I did. It isn’t over the top or done so much that it is overplayed, becomes stupid, silly or ridiculous. It is smart and at just the right moments/points in the story. And that helps make the story even more relatable.
The main character, Charlotte “Charlie”, has traded in her trailer park life to marry up and move to the wealthy side of town. Many resent her for it, other than her life stupid, street-smart brother, Chet. Bless Chet. I wish my brother were like Chet. Lord knows he isn’t. Everyone should have a brother or sister like Chet. Every book should have a character like Chet. But I am getting ahead of myself. We will get back to Chet.
Charlie has surrounded herself by nothing but men. I’m a tomboy so I get being more comfortable around men than women. At the same time when red flags start shooting up. You need to start thinking about any possible women who can help you think through the mess of men that are surrounding you. Even if it is just one. Because if Chet wasn’t there? She would have no one. She is stuck with:
Thank You to Park Row Books for an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Disclaimer- rant above aside, the naming of the town is complete coincidence.
Paul: Her new, older, and rich husband. Also- Suspected of killing his first wife, who was a pro-swimmer but mysteriously drowned in Lake Crosby, which his house sits on
Micah- Paul’s best friend from childhood and diving expert for the police force- oh AND, son of the police chief. And all-around, class-A Jack. Ass.
Jax- “Batty Jax” – A childhood friend of Paul’s and Micah’s. His mother died when he was young, his sister went uber-religious and he ran off into the woods, which is when everyone started calling him “Batty Jax.”
Diana- Oh. Yes. There is one woman. But she hates Charlie. So, that doesn’t count. She is Paul’s Mom and can’t stand that he married someone from “the wrong side of the mountain.” She also considers Jax like a son to her. She’s also a control freak who thinks money can buy anything and anyone. Mother-In-Laws. Like, why even?
Sam- Police officer that Charlie was friends with until she married Paul. He is very, very bitter about her marrying off to the “rich” side of the mountain. Stupid men. He is also lead on investigating, the Stranger in the Lake.
Collectively, Lake Crosby’s cast of characters needs to meditate more…
Stranger in the Lake: Second dead woman found dead (first being Paul’s first wife, Catherine) in Lake Crosby, discovered by Charlie.
And Chet- cinnamon roll brother!
Here is why Chet is my favorite character in the entire book. For any YA readers or regulars to this site (if they exist) that have read Girls with Sharp Sticks, Chet is a lot like Jackson, except Chet is around more. He is the voice in the reader’s head. He basically says aloud everything the reader is thinking but with a whole lot more humor and wit. And I love him.
Stranger in the Lake got to a point where I literally wanted to strangle Charlie and chuck her in the lake, myself. And since it was named after me, I figured I’m allowed. At that exact point, Chet gets a whole chapter where he basically drops reality on her head.
This isn’t the best example of what I mean but it is the best non-spoiler example of what I mean
“I know I’m supposed to be the ignorant one, but-”
“Don’t do that, Chet.” I shake my head, my shoulders slumping. “Don’t make those kinds of jokes about yourself.”
“Word on the street is it’s no joke.” One side of his mouth lifts into a half-cocked grin. “Anyway, you’re supposed to be the smart one in the family. So how come you’re acting so dumb?”
It gets even better from there, but spoilers. I love him. That is all.
What Was That Saying About Looking Gift Horses In the Mouth?
Oh. Yes. You’ll find rotten teeth. The thing is sometimes you are better off finding those teeth. In Charlie’s case?
Putting aside Diana because she is one person. When you are marrying a man with a handful of childhood buddies? Maybe, hang out with them for a while before marrying the man. Just to suss them out a bit and make sure everything is on the up and up. When this one guy- Jax, comes up. Yet, Jax is never there and then they start calling him “Batty” Jax? Maybe get a little nosy about it. After all, you aren’t just marrying the man, you are marrying his life.
Another thing to consider, maybe not marrying into the same house that Paul lived in with his dead wife that mysteriously died in the same lake the house now sits on? That seems a little odd and, personally that might creep me out a bit. Again, this is why I was so happy for Chet. Someone needed to snap Charlie out of her Cinderella daze. You are living in a house with a man who was accused of killing his first wife, in the same house, on the same lake, and the night after telling him you are pregnant…
Never did that meme seem more apropos
…you find another dead body. He takes off to find said, “batty Jax,” and tells you to lie and say he went on a business trip. AND YOU DO?
Yes. She does and that of course just leads to a tangle of lies. Fair game though because she isn’t the only one and her lies are so tame in comparison to everyone else’s lies that they don’t even register on the Richter Scale. As the stranger is pulled from the lake and all the accusations start flying, Paul leaves his blushing bride to deal with everything. As she does, we learn, along with her all the secrets that Paul, his friends and this town have kept well-hidden on both sides of the mountain.
I will say there is one character I had pegged from the beginning. Just a gut a feeling. The rest? It was one of those cases where all the clues were there. In fact, one of the Easter eggs, even made me stop reading for a minute, so it could marinate. I knew there was a there, there. But I just couldn’t connect the dots. And when it all came together. I literally stopped and chastised myself.
One of the plot devices that drives Stranger in the Lake so well is the flashbacks. Belle really brings them in out of nowhere. Especially in who they surround. You know because of the who that it will hold relevance and that kills you because they are pretty short flashbacks. So, I kept rereading them, looking for SOMETHING. But I couldn’t figure out the connection. As I kept going along, I just kept trying to pull it together and Belle was just masterful with it.
When things slowly started clicking into place? I just…
Plus… oh I can’t say that because. Spoiler. I can say there is another whole layer of character connections that I NEVER in a million years would have guessed or seen coming. Just. Never. It was badonkers. Completely badonkers. I just made that word up. I couldn’t vocabulary. So, I made a word up.
Throughout Stranger in the Lake Belle lays out a story full of suspense, clues, red-herrings, and reveals. The story is tight, with easy buy-in. The characters you hate are because you are supposed to hate them. Mind you, that is a good deal of them, but this is a town full of secrets- of the deadly variety.
The only plot hole with the whole book that I can nitpick at is Charlie wanting to live in that house, to begin with but that is how the book starts. It is nitpicking to argue with a character decision she made a year before the book begins.
It starts off with a quickness and never lets-up. There wasn’t ever a point where it lulled or felt like it dragged, at all. Charlie truly had no clue what she didn’t know and with us finding out along with her, there wasn’t time for the story to slow down.
The level of connection between the characters that brought everything together, in terms of the mystery, was complete brilliance because it makes perfect sense. It is laid out in the story and fits within the context of every story element. It doesn’t break the structure, narrative, character make-ups, or setting.
There aren’t any plot-holes created in order for it all to fall into place. There is just enough for some to be guessed, there are plenty that you won’t see coming until the bullet train is bearing down on you. But that is the sign of a good thriller. If it is realistic, then you should see a bit of it coming. When it is too shocking, the reveals probably don’t make any sense or having any alignment to the plot. You want them to be shocking but realistic.
About Kimberly Belle
Photo Courtesy Brandon Wattson
Kimberly Belle is the USA Today and internationally bestselling author of six novels, including the forthcoming Stranger in the Lake (June 2020). Her third novel, The Marriage Lie, was a semifinalist in the 2017 Goodreads Choice Awards for Best Mystery & Thriller, and a #1 e-book bestseller in the UK and Italy. She’s sold rights to her books in a dozen languages as well as film and television options. A graduate of Agnes Scott College, Belle divides her time between Atlanta and Amsterdam.
About Stranger in the Lake
Release Date: June 9th, 2020
Fiction / Thrillers / Psychological
$17.99 USD, $22.99 CAD
Stranger in the Lake Summary:
When Charlotte married the wealthy widower Paul, it caused a ripple of gossip in their small lakeside town. They have a charmed life together, despite the cruel whispers about her humble past and his first marriage. But everything starts to unravel when she discovers a young woman’s body floating in the exact same spot where Paul’s first wife tragically drowned.
At first, it seems like a horrific coincidence, but the stranger in the lake is no stranger. Charlotte saw Paul talking to her the day before, even though Paul tells the police he’s never met the woman. His lie exposes cracks in their fragile new marriage, cracks Charlotte is determined to keep from breaking them in two.
As Charlotte uncovers dark mysteries about the man she married, she doesn’t know what to trust—her heart, which knows Paul to be a good man, or her growing suspicion that there’s something he’s hiding in the water.