"Lake of Darkness" Book Review
Written by Tony Jones
Published by Talos Press
Written by Scott Kenemore
2020, 264 pages, Fiction,
Released on 5th May, 2020
Scott Kenemore’s Lake of Darkness is one of those books with which I struggled to figure out how much I genuinely enjoyed, although it hooked me in quickly and has admirable elements, I was unsure to what extent the odd blend of genres clicked. It’s an ambitious combination of horror, police procedural and supernatural thriller with racial tension lurking in the background. The procedural part dominates the story and is rather one-paced as the main character attempts to solve a series of grisly murders after being put in charge of the investigation by the mayor, the powerful ‘Big’ Bill Thompson. The ritualistic murders and the hunt to solve them will undoubtedly remind you of lots of other novels, but this particularly story has an intriguing supernatural twist which is played out quite slowly as lead investigator, policeman Joe ‘Flip’ Flippity, digs into a mystery which gets stranger as it develops.
The description on one of the blurbs calls this book an alternate history, but there is not enough different in this version of early 20th Century Chicago to genuinely call it alternate. Perhaps this is because American history is not a strong point of mine and it will be more obvious to American readers, but apart from the supernatural being accepted as relatively normal, it does not head into territory as radical as, say, Philip K Dick’s Man in the High Castle. The policeman pays cash to an ancient medium for advice on the killer, but so what? The supernatural is commonly accepted in the John Connolly Charlie Parker books, but I would not call them truly alternate either. However, there are subtle differences, such as Chicago having a black mayor, obviously impossible in the time period where all the action takes place. For the most part I was unaware I was reading a novel which is billed as alternate, but this is merely an observation rather than a criticism.
The investigation is also racially charged; this was one of the stronger elements of the story, as black policemen are regarded as decidedly second-class and are landed with dead-end assignments. Flip quickly realises he has been put in charge of the case because the victims are predominately black and as the body count increases, the huge lack population of Chicago, which has migrated from the south and countryside areas, is both fearful and restless. Would Flip have been given this assignment if he had not been black himself? Unlikely, but soon he finds there are many more victims than have been previously reported and the mayor, who is not a patient man, expects results and fast.
The Chicago backdrop is another vivid and eye-catching part of Lake of Darkness, which at times overshadows the slow-to-develop murder investigation, possibly because of the lack of suspects or genuine clues thrown in the direction of the reader. However, accompanying Flip, with the 10K given to him by the mayor, around the seedy side of Chicago’s South Side, taking in brothels and travelling circuses, is an engrossing experience. Fans of historical fiction should enjoy this part of the book very much, from the excellently atmospheric descriptions to cameos of real historical characters. The author does a great job of bringing the city of a century ago to life, in all its violent complexity, contradictions and racial undertones. But if you’re a fan of traditional historical fiction, hold onto your hat, this book really is not that and heads into the areas of cosmic horror. There are few white faces in the book and even though this is a big case, Flip has very little interaction with any white policemen, that was perhaps a missed opportunity to ramp up the racial tension within the internal investigation?
The case has extra spice as it is revealed in the early stages that the killer is only targeting identical twins and after the crime mutilates the bodies horribly. This part of the story is both bleak and brutal, with the reader realising that life of a black person is particularly cheap and that if it were not for the media pressure, the mayor, who wants it solved for his own political gains, would not be interested in the slightest. Along the way there are a few twists, and deeper conspiracies, where the story bounces around the genres mentioned earlier, never truly settling in either supernatural thriller or crime mystery. The cosmic horror aspect develops as Lake of Darkness progresses and traditional thriller readers might find the ending just a bit much for them, or disappointing even. Horror fans are more likely to suck it up.
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