For generations only a few families held title to land in the isolated Catskill Mountain community of Hemlock Lake. But with the turning of the century one man, lured by easy money, sells his inheritance to a developer of luxury homes. As the contractor bulldozes farmland and forest, neighbors cry environmental rape, and someone threatens to burn what is built.
Hoping to stop the arsonist, but tormented by personal demons, Sergeant Dan Stone reluctantly returns to his family home on the shores of the lake. The previous autumn his wife died in its dark waters and his brother put a bullet in his brain. That tragedy sent Dan’s father drifting toward death.
Isolated by his pain, Dan is thrust into the no man’s land between newcomers and long-time residents who stonewall his investigation into threats, graffiti, theft, and a blaze that nearly kills the construction foreman. Townspeople blame outsiders, eco-terrorists, a ragged tramp haunting the woods and the mysterious creator of rock cairns that often mark the sites of crimes to come. But as summer sizzles on, the arsonist turns killer, and Dan suspects it’s someone he knows well: a firefighter, a long-time friend, or a woman with a killing in her past.
CAROLYN J. ROSE
Carolyn is the author of more than a dozen novels, including the ‘Subbing isn’t for Sissies’ series (No Substitute for Murder. No Substitute for Money and No Substitute for Maturity), and this, the ‘Catskill Mountains Mysteries’ (Hemlock Lake and Though a Yellow Wood).
She grew up in New York’s Catskill Mountains and graduated from the University of Arizona. She then logged two years in Arkansas, with Volunteers in Service to America and spent twenty five years as a television news researcher, writer, producer and assignment editor, in Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington.
She founded the Vancouver Writers’ Mixers and is an active supporter of her local bookstore, ‘Cover to Cover’.
Her interests are reading, gardening and NOT cooking.
Catch up with Carolyn at her website
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They’ve got cable TV and their calendars show they’re in the new century just like all the rest of us, but they’ve still got one foot in the past. Deep in the past. They keep themselves apart, take care of their own.
“You can go to the other side of the globe. But the past is right up here.” She touched her forehead. “All it takes is the right word, a slant of the sun, or the sight of your face in the mirror, and you’re right back again.”
“Everyone’s always saying Hemlock Lake is the greatest place on Earth, but how do they know? Nobody here ever goes much of anyplace.” Ronny turned bitter eyes on me. “Only fools leave Hemlock Lake.” Or maybe, I thought, only fools return.,
“In all the cities I’d visited, I’d never felt as hemmed in by humanity as I did here.”
Whilst for me Hemlock Lake is very much an essentially character driven story, a sense of time and place is more than convincingly evoked in Carolyn’s meticulous and well presented research, her keen attention to detail and her acute observational skills, which offer a thoughtful social commentary about a place where time appears to have stood still, leaving the folks who live there, trapped in the time warp, unable, almost unwilling to embrace change of any kind. I was in fact, so convinced that this insular community was invented for the purposes of the story, that I challenged Carolyn about it, only to be assured that the area in question is still very much as she describes it, with the inhabitants mirroring almost exactly, their fictional counterparts.
When one man turns his back on tradition for the sake of money and sells his land to developers for luxury housing, that’s when the trouble begins and the community closes ranks to push back, some more violently than others however! So multi-layered and deeply ingrained are their inherited beliefs about the outside world, I think that in the beginning, there must have been a terrible sense of genuine insecurity amongst them. Strangers will be coming to infiltrate, live amongst them, change their way of life and they simply don’t know how to deal with it. Then, for a small group, things take a turn for the worse, when this underlying bitterness and fear turns into pure hatred and it is determined that there will never be any outsiders making their homes in the area, no matter what the cost. Such is the power of Carolyn’s descriptive writing at this point, that I could almost sense the pent up emotions and long ingrained resentments, oozing from the pages, as the characters begin to show their true colours and yes! to almost choose their sides, in what appears to have become a battle to be fought!
Now! send in amongst them, someone raised in the community, who has had the temerity to leave and is having to return at the behest of his employer. Add to that the fact that Dan Stone is a police officer, being placed back into the centre of his hometown to investigate the growing ferocity of the criminal acts being perpetrated against the developers of the land and this simmering cauldron of humanity, is set to boil over spectacularly!
Dan Stone has issues of his own about returning to his birthplace, following dramatic and emotional events, which at the time almost destroyed his life and broke him as an individual. Although much of the tragedy remains firmly fixed in his consciousness, his memory refuses to acknowledge the most awful of thoughts. However, returning to the scene eventually brings the feelings of betrayal and deception flooding back and only now can the healing process really begin, as he works his way through the morass of interwoven relationships and friendships from his former life.
Dan is not the only relative stranger in Hemlock Lake though and he soon finds his emotions and loyalties once again torn asunder, when he must decide whether to trust the newcomers or leave them to the mercy of the long-term residents, although one new arrival in particular, is more than able and strong enough to take care of herself, leaving Dan to work out the identity of someone who by now, has become a cold blooded killer.
Not all of the residents of Hemlock Lake are so firmly locked into the past however and Carolyn ratchets up the tension, as the clock begins ticking for Dan, who must decide friend from foe, with suspicion falling on first one and then another of his former neighbours. Long supressed feuds become public and the finger of blame points in more than one direction, as the killer becomes more desperate and reckless, seemingly having lost all sense of reality and without thought for their own capture or potential death!
Several times, I thought I had worked out the identity of this demented and tortured individual, only to have my theory shot down in flames, by yet another twist in the plot. All the while I also found myself rooting for Dan, as he struggles with the decision whether to return to fold of the community when this is all over, or to pack up and leave for good. He now thinks he has a reason to stay and put down roots, but is Camille his saving grace or his nemesis, sinner or saviour?
No ‘spoilers’ here I’m afraid! A story so rich in characterisation and atmosphere as this, you really need to read for yourself!
As this was an author invitation to read and review, a Kindle download of ‘Hemlock Lake’ was sent to me free of charge, by its author, Carolyn J. Rose.
This in no way influenced any comments I may have expressed about the book, in any blog article I have posted. Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article.
I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a 4 out of 5.