The Dark Lake


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When I think back to that summer something comes loose in my head. It’s like a marble is bouncing around in there, like my brain is a pinball machine. I try not to let it roll around for too long. If I do, I end up going funny behind the eyes and in my throat and I can’t do normal things like order coffee or tie Ben’s shoelaces. I know I should try to forget. Move on. It’s what I would tell someone else in my situation to do. Probably I should move away, leave Smithson, but starting over has never been a strength of mine. I have trouble letting go.

During the day it’s not so bad. I’ll be in the middle of doing something and then my mind wanders to her and the little ball ricochets through my head and I stop talking in the middle of a sentence, or I forget to press the accelerator when the lights go green. Still, I can usually shake it away and keep going with whatever I was doing without anyone noticing.

It’s amazing what you can keep buried when you want to.

But sometimes, late at night, I let myself think about what happened. Really think. I remember the throbbing heat. I remember the madness in my head and the fear that pulsed in my chest. And I remember Rosalind, of course. Always Rosalind. I lie flat on my back and she appears on my bedroom ceiling, playing across it like a lightless slide show. I click through the images: her in grade one with her socks pulled up high; her walking down Ayres Road towards the bus stop, backpack bobbing; her smoking a cigarette on the edges of the school oval; her drunk at Cathy Roper’s party, eyes heavy with dark liner.

Her at our debutante ball, dressed in white.

Her kissing him.

Her lying on the autopsy table with her body splayed open.

I can’t even tell anymore whether the pictures are from my memories or ones I came across during the case. After a while, everything starts to blur together. A few times I’ve got it all mixed up and Ben ends up on my bedroom ceiling, sliced open on the autopsy table. When that happens, I get up, turn on the hallway lights and go into his room to check on him.

Once it was all over I promised to make a fresh start. To stop letting the past weigh me down. But it’s been hard. Harder than I thought it would be. So much happened that summer. It lives on inside me somehow, writhing around like a living beast.

It’s weird, but in a way it’s sort of like I miss her.

I miss a lot of people.

One memory I do have that I know is real is from our final year of high school English. It was warm and the windows were open on both sides of the classroom. I can still feel the breeze that ruffled across us as Mrs Frisk roamed around the room firing questions at us. We were studying Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet. This class was different from the English classes in earlier years. If you made it this far, you were serious. Even the boys would generally pay attention. No one sniggered at the love scenes like they had a few years earlier.

Rose always sat up the front, her back ruler-straight from years of ballet, her thick caramel hair spilling down it like a wave. I always sat near the door on the other side of the room. I could look at her from there. Watch her perfect movements.

‘What do you think Shakespeare is getting at when he declares that “these violent delights have violent ends”?’ Mrs Frisk’s forehead beaded with sweat as she stalked around the edges of the room, stepping in and out of sun puddles.

‘Well, it’s foreboding, isn’t it?’ offered Kevin Whitby. ‘You know they’re doomed from the start. Shakespeare wants you to know that. He loved a good warning to set the scene. These days he’d be writing shit-hot anti-drug ads.’

Soft laughter bubbled up from the class.

‘It’s a warning, sure, but I don’t think he’s saying they should stop.’

Everyone paused, caught in the honey of Rose’s voice. Even Mrs Frisk stopped pacing.

Rose leaned forward over her notebook. ‘I mean, Shakespeare goes on to say, “And in their triumph die, like fire and powder. Which as they kiss consume.” So he’s basically saying everything has consequences. He’s not necessarily saying it’s not worth it. I think he’s suggesting that sometimes things are worth doing anyway.’

Mrs Frisk nodded enthusiastically. ‘Rose makes an important point. Shakespeare was big on consequences. All of his plays circle around characters who weigh up the odds and choose to behave in a certain way based on their assessments.’

‘They didn’t make great choices for the most part,’ said Kevin. ‘They all had pretty bad judgment.’

‘I disagree.’ Rose looked at Kevin in a way that was hard to cat­egorise as either friendly or annoyed. ‘Romeo and Juliet were all-in right from the start, even though they knew it probably wasn’t going to end well.’ She smiled at Mrs Frisk. ‘I think that kind of conviction is admirable. Plus, it’s possible that the happiness they felt in their short time together outweighed any other happiness they’d have felt if they lived their whole lives apart.’ She shrugged delicately. ‘But who knows. Those are just my thoughts.’

I think about that day often. The fresh fragrant air pouring through the windows as we debated the story of the two young lovers. Rose lit by the sun, her beautiful face giving nothing away. Her elegant hands diligently making notes, her writing perfect compared to my own crude scrawl. Even back then, she was a mystery that I wanted to solve.

There were a few minutes when I was alone with her in the autopsy room. I felt wild. Absent. Before I could stop myself I was leaning close to her, telling her everything. The words draining out of me as she lay there. Her long damp hair hanging off the back of the steel table. Glassy eyes fixed blindly on the ceiling. She was still so beautiful, even in death.

Our secrets circled madly around the bright white room that morning. Rocking back and forth on my heels as I stood next to her, I knew how far in I was again, how comprehensively her death could undo me. I looked at Rosalind Ryan properly for the last time before breathing deeply, readying myself, letting her pull me back into her world, and I sank down, further and further, until I was completely, utterly under.


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Chapter One

Saturday, 12 December, 7.18 am

Connor Marsh jogs steadily around the east side of Sonny Lake. He throws a quick glance at his watch. He is making great time and it feels good being out of the house and running in the fresh air. The kids were crazy this morning; they’d woken at six and were still bouncing off the walls when he left the house an hour later. The place is way too small for two little kids, especially boys, he thinks. And Mia was in such a foul mood. He can’t believe that she had a go at him about the fishing trip next weekend. He hasn’t been away in ages and has been taking the boys to footy or soccer every Saturday morning for over two years now. Connor grimaces, frustrated at how unreasonable she can be.

His feet pound along the dusty track, making an even beat. One, two, one, two. Connor often finds himself counting when he is trying not to think too much about running. His legs burn more than they used to and his ankle hasn’t been the same since he fell off the ladder at work a few years back. Still, he is fitter than most guys his age. And he has a full head of hair. Lots to be grateful for.

The day starts to wake in earnest. Connor catches glimpses of the sun through the messy tips of the gums. Another scorcher is on the way. Birds trill from their lookouts and the wispy haze of sleep across the lake is starting to clear. Connor sighs. He’s taking the kids to a fifth birthday party at ten, followed by a seven-year-old’s birthday party this afternoon. Weekends sure are different these days. He would give almost anything to crack open a beer and watch the cricket in peace.

Connor steps heavily on a stick. It flicks up and scratches along his shin.

‘Shit.’ He stumbles before regaining his balance. The cut stings as it breaks into a thin red line. He slows his jogging, panting. He won’t bother doing another lap now; he needs to head back home anyway to help get the kids ready for their party marathon. Walking, he places his hands on his hips as his heartbeat calms, breathing jaggedly from his mouth.

A duck flies low across the water, wings outstretched. Rubbish dots the edges of the lake. Chip packets and Coke bottles are held hostage by the rocks and submerged branches. The heat has caused the lake to creep away from its banks. Tree roots are exposed like electric wires. Connor’s eyes scan the water. He really should come running here more often; get back into a routine. He can remember training here for athletics years ago, doing laps around the track before school, the burn in his thighs. He notices the gaping eye of the stormwater drain, pitch black against the glare as it disappears into the clay wall of the lake. A little further along, Connor notices something caught at the water’s edge; it appears to be made from some kind of fabric. He squints and realises he is looking at hair swirling out past a line of reeds. His feet lock to the ground. It looks like human hair, a woman’s blonde hair. His heartbeat picks up again. His limbs feel hollow. Two steps forward confirm it is indeed a woman face down in the lake. Bare white arms are visible every time the water ripples and long-stemmed red roses bob across the top of her watery grave.

A cluster of swans watches Connor from under the old wooden bridge. One of the birds lets out a low, haunting cry.

He drops to his knees and worries for a moment that he will be sick. His breathing slows and then quickens again. He looks back at the body and then jerks his gaze away. Barely thinking, he dials triple zero and thrusts his phone against his ear.


This novel is published by Allen & Unwin. To purchase the novel move your curser mid-bottom page (and follow the Buy link).


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Overview of the Novel

There were a few minutes when I was alone with her in the autopsy room. I felt wild. Absent. Before I could stop myself I was leaning close to her, telling her everything. The words draining out of me as she lay there. Her long damp hair hanging off the back of the steel table. Glassy eyes fixed blindly on the ceiling. She was still so beautiful, even in death.

Our secrets circled madly around the bright white room that morning. Rocking back and forth on my heels as I stood next to her, I knew how far in I was again, how comprehensively her death could undo me. I looked at Rosalind Ryan properly for the last time before breathing deeply, readying myself, letting her pull me back into her world, and I sank down, further and further, until I was completely, utterly under.

A beautiful young teacher has been murdered, her body found in the lake, strewn with red roses. Local policewoman Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock pushes to be assigned to the case, concealing the fact that she knew the murdered woman in high school years before.

But that's not all Gemma's trying to hide. As the investigation digs deeper into the victim's past, other secrets threaten to come to light, secrets that were supposed to remain buried. The lake holds the key to solving the murder, but it also has the power to drag Gemma down into its dark depths.

The Dark Lake is an addictive crime thriller, a mesmerising account of one woman's descent into deceit and madness, and a stunning debut that is already causing a stir around the world.

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