One of the interesting things about these mid-century gothic romances is the surprising amount of time it takes to read a book that is so slender. This book was originally published in 1953 under the title "The Lamb to the Slaughter." This is actually a bit earlier than most of the gothics I read, which are generally from the 1960's.
In The Brooding Lake, Eden, who was born in New Zealand, returns to New Zealand for her story. Alice, the heroine, has been summoned to a tiny community near the small town New Zealand town of Hokitika by her friend Camilla, where she is meant to be a teacher for the small school there.
By the time Alice arrives, however, Camilla is no where to be found. Alice installs herself in the rundown cottage in the woods where Camilla has been living, finding no one there but a (very hungry) cat and a magpie who yells random concerning things like "lend it to me" and "get out." Alice finds a letter from Camilla joyously informing her that she is getting married.
Upon arrival, three men present themselves as possible suitors for our fair Alice: Dalton, the enigmatic, wealthy man who lives in a beautiful home with his friendly sister, Katherine, Dundas, and older widower who lives in a small house with his daughter Margaretta, and Felix Dodson, who is an old flame of Alice's who just happens to be a bus driver in the area.
As the book proceeds, things get weird as they do in gothic romances. On an exceptionally dark and stormy night, Alice is trapped in Dalton & Katherine's home when someone
(cough, Katherine, cough)
punctures the tires so Dalton can't drive her home. One of the servants, Tottie, whispers to Alice that she should lock her door. Alice fails to heed the advice and someone comes into her room at night, ties her hair to the bed post, and whispers creepy stuff like "Camilla is here" as she flees in terror into the night.
The relationship with Dundas takes a turn as well, when Alice is clonked on the head with a branch during the storm and ends up in his home with Margaretta in charge of nursing her back to health. Dundas declares his love for Alice with a disturbing focus on her petite size - the whole thing was weird as all get out, and at one point had me convinced that Eden was going to make Dundas a cross-dresser, which would have been shocking indeed to the 1953 mind. Alas, that was not what was going on.
Anyway, the book comes to an emotional climax in a boat on the brooding lake, with a rather Ripley-esque few moments that Alice must handle. As is also the tradition with gothic romance, the story wraps up very quickly, in a few pages, with one of the suitors proving his love by saving the heroine, one of the suitors being exposed as a murderer, and one of the suitors leaving town.
Things just got super-creepy with Dalton and Katherine. Classic dark and stormy night, with disembodied voices whispering in the dark.
Still no brooding lake. However, the fair Camilla has been keeping at least four men dancing attendance on her. Somehow, I suspect that she has not eloped. I fear she has come to a bad end, and that Alice's digging around will not go well.
by Cynthia Eden
For some strange reason, I dropped another book from the 'Romantic Suspense' Halloween Bingo square and replaced it with Secret Admirer. I don't know why, but I guess I was hoping that I'd find another Cynthia Eden novel I'd come to really like. I suppose I would be more disappointed if I hadn't then decided to shuffle the initial book I'd considered reading onto a different Bingo square.
But that's a moot point.
I'm actually rambling because I needed a couple paragraphs to start off this post. Secret Admirer has a summary blurb that is six paragraphs long, and sort of just takes you in circles, repeating itself a couple times. So I needed a lead-in to basically tell everyone that here is my own half-assed summary of the book.
Alice May's fiancé, Hugh, died on their wedding day... the same day that she found out he was the infamous Secret Admirer, a serial killer who had murdered five other women, all who looked eerily similar to Alice in appearance. A year later, Alice has left her home and is trying to start her life over, away from the stigma of having been engaged to a monster.
Along comes Zander Todd, a neighbor in a nearby cabin who has been helping her out whenever something in her home breaks. What Alice doesn't know is that Zander is an FBI agent, assigned to get close to her and find out what she knows or might know about her deceased fiancé. Because another murder has recently occurred, in the same fashion as the Secret Admirer killings from a year previous, and the FBI think that Alice might have had more to do with those killings than she'd admitted to. That maybe she had participated and is picking up where her fiancé left off.
But as Zander and Alice begin to form a closer, more intimate bond, it seems that the real killer has set his sights on Alice now. And so in order to keep her safe, Zander will have to admit his reasons for getting close to Alice in the first place, no matter that his intentions are no longer just part of his undercover act.
There were two factors working against this book.
First of all, Cynthia Eden has already written this story once before in Die For Me - A Novel of the Valentine Killer. Secret Admirer is essentially the same story with a different twist, but a lot of similar scenes. Even one of the surprise twists in the end was pretty, unapologetically similar. There were a few differences, such as the killer's media dubbed name, or how our hero and heroine meet. But some other factors, such as the description of how the 'Secret Admirer' killed his victims, or staged their bodies seemed to echo the 'Valentine Killer.' I couldn't get past how similar both books were.
Second of all, this book felt rushed. Even if I had read this one before Die For Me, I probably would have found it mediocre at best because of how abrupt and over-dramatic it was written. The romance was rushed and the ending resolution was rushed. The conclusion was pretty predictable and I felt like our killer pretty much walked in with neon signs pointing at him--he was hard to miss.
Simply put, if more thought had been put into this book, like maybe giving us a better look at how our hero and heroine bonded for the past couple months before slinging the "I love you's" around, or even giving me a reason why our heroine, Alice, would so easily trust another man again after what she'd gone through with her fiance, I probably would have been a bit more accepting. Simply citing that Zander is "just different" doesn't really cut it for me. In essence, we were told that the two got to know each other over a course of two months, but we don't get to see any of that--only those first chapters where Zander flirts with Alice, promises that he's not out to hurt her, then she just automatically trusts him, and then they jump into bed together.
I wanted more from them than that, honestly.
On a side note, I will openly admit to being a fan of Jayne Ann Krentz and Jill Shalvis, two authors who's books are pretty much the same formulaic romances over and over again. It sounds like I'm being contradictory, but in the case of JAK or Shalvis, I always come back to their books because they are charming and attractive in spite of their ever recycled material.
It's unfortunate that aside from being an echo of Die For Me, Secret Admirer was also not actually written all that well. If it had been, I might have just mentioned the similarities briefly, and then moved onto talking about other parts of the book. I have a pretty high tolerance for things like this.
Die For Me wasn't even really one of my favorite Cynthia Eden novels, truth be told, and I had found the heroine pretty depressing. So this makes Secret Admirer doubly frustrating, because it just echoes a book I'd already read before, but didn't really care too much for, and doesn't improve on it. Alice is no different from the heroine of Die For Me, so by default, that makes Die For Me the better novel because it was a bit more fleshed out than Secret Admirer, which is a disappointing, really. I've been looking for another great Cynthia Eden book ever since her Deadly trio, which I had found very enjoyable and hard to put down--I still haven't found another Cynthia Eden work like that.
Fortunately, this book was extremely bite-sized and it didn't take long to breeze through it.
On a another side note, while writing this review, I had a moment wherein I couldn't remember the heroine's name. Mere hours after finishing the book, and I could not conjure the heroine's name and had to go look it up. This is how unforgettable this book is going to be to me...
|Halloween Bingo 2018
(any romance which has a significant sub-plot that involves mystery, thriller, or suspense)
Other possible squares: New Release; Genre: Suspense; Terrifying Women; Murder Most Foul
I did start this, although I didn't get very far into it! I ended up doing a lot of projects around the house over the weekend, in addition to the book sell-back/sorting project that I have already mentioned. I also cleaned out our coat closet of decades worth of old coats, mismatched gloves and ratty baseball caps, and I decuttered our pantry shelves of everything that doesn't belong in a pantry/laundry room.
In the middle of that bustling activity, I mostly just wanted to watch movies. In honor of fall, I settled to complete the lovely annual autumnal Harry Potter rewatch, and watched the second half of Order of the Phoenix, Half Blood Prince and both Part I and Part II of The Deathly Hallows. I also made a bubbling pot of delicious turkey and bean chili and did the laundry. All in all, it was a lovely, busy, productive yet still relaxing weekend.
The first two chapters of The Brooding Lake are setting it up quite nicely. Our main character, Alice, has arrived for a visit with her friend, Camilla. In a bit of a confusing non-sequitur, it turns out that her bus driver is Felix, a lost love. It's unclear in the first few sentences if Alice recognized him when she boarded the bus or not, so that whole thing was sort of confusing. Our location is a bit obscure - it seems to be somewhere on the west coast of New Zealand, with reference to a glacier.
Above is Lake Matheson, which is apparently in the general area. It could be convincingly broody at dusk, possibly with some fog trailing about dramatically.
We haven't yet gotten to the brooding lake, however, Camilla is no where to be found. Just her cat and her parrot, randomly screaming "Get Out" are in the home...