If it weren’t for all the wicked haunted house scenes and terrifying entities in Home Before Dark, I’d say Riley Sager’s latest release, The House Across The Lake, is my new favorite of his.
Sager entangled an ethereal web of horror subgenres and true crime in this book, and dread drips from the pages from start to finish. Protagonist Casey Fletcher is a widowed actress whose very public and drunken downfall lands her in an isolated lake house in Vermont. Though Casey lays low, she can’t dull the pain of the past on her own. Her only relief comes from tall glasses of bourbon.
Stupored and bored, Casey spies on her neighbors — a leading tech entrepreneur, Tom Royce, and his wife, world-renowned supermodel, Katherine. Casey witnesses alarming aggression between the couple in the house across the lake and what seems to be uncoincidental clues that Katherine is in grave danger.
I would’ve liked to see more redemption qualities in Katherine’s character. Her arc’s foundation is a sense of failure and guilt, and the final stage of her character rings true to that. However, I still felt she was a bit dense and lacked likable qualities. It’s worth noting that that may have been Sager’s intent, similar to Mary Katherine in Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle.
On another note, the breadcrumbs in the first half of The House Across the Lake, such as the article about a man who attempts to poison his wife over time, create the chilling, uneasy backdrop thriller readers crave. Additionally, Casey’s semi-unreliable narrator performance conjures an unnerving, claustrophobic sensation that makes this an unputdownable read.
Once Katherine disappeared, I feared Sager’s book lacked originality. It felt a little too close to A.J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window, which I felt had a thrilling build with a bland pay-off.
Man, I underestimated Sager.
In the third act of The House Across the Lake, the predictability sinks far beneath the simmering surface, lost in the dark. Here, I had trouble committing to a lone genre classification for the book, which made for a terrifying twist that readers never saw coming.
In the ultimate reveal and the climax, The House Across the Lake creates an irrevocable, blistering metaphor for men’s need to possess women. In this, I felt Sager’s intention was far more wholesome than to shock and scare, but to beg a lasting reflection on society’s treatment of women.
I recommend The House Across the Lake to true crime readers, especially those interested in cases like Ted Bundy and those looking for a masterful execution of suspense and dread in near Hitchcockian expertise.