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  • Writer's pictureMandy McHugh

Stranger in the Lake, Kimberly Belle: A Review

I have a trend going lately for books about lakes and missing or dead women, so it should come as no surprise that Stranger in the Lake is about just that.

Charlotte (Charlie) has married the wealthy man of her dreams, swearing to leave her trailer park upbringing behind her and focusing on her future, especially since she's just found out she's pregnant. However, when she finds a dead woman floating beneath her dock, the second such woman who's met the tragic end in the same spot, Charlotte questions her relationship, her identity, and her safety. With her brother Chet and longtime friend Micah, she's determined to solve the mystery, find the killer, and give her child the life that her own mother wasn't able to provide for her.

On the surface, this book is a pretty standard thriller. Dead women, decades-old local rumors about a similar case, a cast of unreliable narrators. This played out well, and Belle executed her pacing and structure. I would argue, though, the most endearing part of Stranger in the Lake was the underlying commentary on maternal relationships, an area I'm particularly interested in in my own writing. So many times, we see mother/daughter relationships as wholesome and transcendent. Mothers love their children. Mothers care for their children. Mothers want to be mothers. It's rare you see a gritty picture in a thriller, where the MC embraces her poor upbringing and showcases the drug addiction, the shortcomings, and the neglect. I found Charlie's struggle with her newfound wealthy status incredibly interesting. Her identity is wrapped up in a community where BBQ joints have no menus and only locals know how to order. Where hunger is a mainstay and rich means a full fridge. I found this relatable and heartbreaking. A few months back, before the world went into pandemic mode, there was a meme circulating about how to tell your friends were rich when you were a kid, and doubled-door fridges with ice makers topped the list. There's a reason for this, and Belle did an excellent job highlighting the pitfalls of "making something of yourself."

While the plot was a tad on the predictable side, Charlie's character arc itself was enough to carry the themes and narrative voices, and for that, I really liked this book. Stranger in the Lake is a solid read, with plenty of twists and social commentary, and you'll want to add this to your TBRs ASAP.


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