Monday, June 20, 2022

Book Review: The House Across the Lake

By Jami Denison

Grieving single woman? Check.

Alcoholic? Check.

Spying on the neighbors? Check.

Convinced she’s seen a murder? Check.

No one believes her? Check.

Huge secret she’s hiding? Check, check, check.

These questions could describe dozens of books published since Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train came out in 2015. The elements are so well known that earlier this year, Netflix ran a very popular parody series, The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window. Starring Kristen Bell, its critics complained that it hewed so closely to the genre that the satire was too thin. 

But it is possible to still wring surprises from these tropes, as proven by Riley Sager’s latest thriller, The House Across the Lake. 

In this case, the grieving drunk protagonist is Casey Fletcher, a C-list actress still mourning her husband’s drowning death fourteen months ago. After a drunken escapade costs her her Broadway role and leaves her on Page Six, Casey’s mother banishes her to the family lake house in Vermont—which also happens to be on the same lake where her husband drowned. Not surprisingly, Casey can’t stay away from the bourbon, nor the binoculars her husband left behind. She passes her time spying on the house across the lake, a glass monstrosity recently purchased by tech millionaire Tom Royce and his model-wife Katherine. After Casey saves Katherine from drowning herself, the two women become friends. Casey, however, continues to spy on Katherine, and she’s concerned about the relationship between the Royces. When Katherine disappears, Casey is convinced that Tom had something to do with it.

Because these details are so familiar by this point—and Casey’s constant descriptions of bourbon (sometimes vodka) were tiresome—I found The House Across the Lake somewhat hard to get into. But it’s a fast read, with lots of action, quick descriptions, and short chapters. 

And then, three-quarters of the way in, there’s a twist so fantastic that I literally gasped when reading it. 

Do not put this book down if you think it’s predictable or boring. It’s not. Stick it out for this twist!

The sleight-of-hand Sager pulls here is masterful. A few years ago, another domestic thriller writer tried something similar (I won’t give away the name as it might reveal too much), and the author was criticized for breaking the genre rules. That book became a Netflix series, and the same criticism occurred all over again.

Sager probably won’t get the same critique. From the get-go, he lays out hints about the type of story he’s really telling, but drops them so casually and buries them so carefully that the reader won’t pick them up. When he finally reveals his true game, the reveal feels earned, not gimmicky. By that point, it’s a wild ride till the end, flying down the hill of the world’s tallest roller coaster.

The House Across the Lake is Sager’s sixth book, and while it’s missing some of the character depth of earlier books, it may be his biggest yet. 

It might even earn him a Netflix series.  

Thanks to Dutton for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Riley Sager:

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