Review: ‘The House on the Lake’ is a wild, improbable ride

“The House Across the Lake” by Riley Sager (Dutton)

Casey Fletcher and her husband Len bought a cottage on a remote lake in Vermont as a getaway from their hectic life in New York City. But after he drowned there, Casey chose to anesthetize her pain with alcohol.

As Riley Sager’s “The House Across the Lake” opens, Casey’s drinking has destroyed her career as a Broadway performer, so she returns to the lake alone (How is that a good idea?) to escape the blizzard of bad publicity and to find a little peace. She doesn’t.

Instead she sits, day after day, drinking everything alcoholic she can get her hands on and amusing herself by spying on her handful of neighbors with high-powered binoculars. She finds herself attracted to a buff former cop now working as a handyman at one of the other cottages. But the neighbors who interest her most are the husband and wife who just bought a large, glass-front house directly across the lake.

At night, when interior lights make everything inside visible, Casey spends hours studying the inhabitants — a wealthy supermodel and her broke tech-executive husband.

Soon Casey strikes up a friendship with the model, but the more she spies on the couple, the more paranoid she becomes. Before long, she convinces herself that the model is being slowly poisoned by her husband so he can get his hands on her money.

At this point, the novel brings to mind the classic Alfred Hitchcock film “Rear Window” with a dose of “The Days of Wine and Roses” thrown in. When the model goes missing, Casey fears she has been murdered and proceeds to investigate herself, ignoring a police detective’s orders to butt out.

Casey, the narrator of the tale, is besotted and unreliable, so readers are deliberately kept off balance, uncertain what they are supposed to believe. When it is revealed that the detective suspects a serial killer is loose in the area, and when rumors spread that the lake is haunted, the tale takes a series of weird turns, morphing into a cross between “Silence of the Lambs” and “The Exorcist.”

As with Sager’s first five thrillers, the characters are well drawn and the prose is first rate. However, the book takes readers on such a wild ride that some may find it too improbable to swallow.

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Bruce DeSilva, winner of the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award, is the author of the Mulligan crime novels including “The Dread Line.”

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