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.