When news comes that Amy’s grandma is on her deathbed, the family she nannies for in France encourages her go home to Sheffield. After her grandmother passes away and Amy has found a new job, she receives a message from Julia, the woman she used to work for – her husband Alain has died, and her and her daughter Vivian have been forced to move back to Julia’s childhood home in England, Blackwater.
Grieving and destitute, Julia asks Amy for help. But when Amy arrives at an unloved and desolate house, she finds out that the ghost of Caroline, Julia’s older sister who died at the age of 17, haunts the whole village and Julia herself, so much so that no one will speak of her, and if they do it’s with hatred and disgust.
Soon though, Vivian says she talks to Caroline and strange things begin happening in the house. Is Caroline haunting Blackwater in more ways than one? Soon, it’s not just Caroline’s secrets that Amy is uncovering, but the whole of Blackwater’s…
I’m not easily scared but this book made me very uneasy, and at some points when reading it alone I had to put it down. Douglas has created a very vivid environment for her characters to inhabit, and you can feel the foreboding nature of the house and surrounding area as you read.
Douglas’ narrative is brilliantly crafted, and as you begin to peel back the layers you can tell that the complex threads of her story have been woven with meticulous attention to detail, and it is this that makes the book such a worthwhile read. The secrets are so closely guarded that it is only as you get towards the conclusion that you finally realise the entire story.
As a character, I will admit I didn’t overly warm Amy – some parts of her language and inner thoughts are a bit too romanticised for me, but I put that down to the book being set in the early 1960s and me reading it as a young woman in the 21st century, but in all honesty it doesn’t detract from the story.
Julia in contrast I think is very well written; Douglas portrays her grief particularly well, with her gradual recovery being sympathetic and true to life as she gradually adjusts to having lost both her husband and her former life. Meanwhile, although only a ‘ghost’, Caroline is perhaps the character I was most rooting for – the character with the most to say and yet the only one that couldn’t speak, and I think it’s a testament to Douglas’ talent as a writer that she manages to make the reader care so much about a character that doesn’t really appear in the narrative.
The Secret by the Lake is not a book to be picked up and put down at your leisure, it is a compelling read that will draw you in and refuse to let you go until you’ve reached the end. But if you are easily scared, it’s not one I’d recommend reading alone…