BOOK REVIEW: Beneath the Lake by Christopher Ransom

Beneath the LakeOn a seemingly perfect camping trip at Blundstone Lake, Nebraska, the Mercer family find themselves embroiled in another family’s violence. The Mercers are forced to take action, and then to live with the consequences for the rest of their lives. Thirty years later, Ray, the youngest of the Mercers, is summoned from his life of coasting, to a family reunion at the lake. There, they must confront the past if there is to be any hope of a future.

A glorious sense of unease drifted through this book, like fog on a winter’s night; rising, falling but never truly dissipating. From the opening drama, which is never fully explained, to the final climax there is an eerie tension that promised a great deal.

We first meet the Mercers part way through their holiday, and each character is artfully drawn: their strengths, their flaws, their relationships with one another, all beautifully defined and relatable to any modern day family. The Mercers and the mystery of the opening chapters had me clamouring for more, but unfortunately the rest of the story didn’t carry the same momentum.

Intrigue dissolved into indifference and confusion: there was a supernatural element to this story that felt muddled. This was further complicated by poor pacing: instead of arcing to a crescendo, the story peaked in a number of places and then fell flat again. A few times I was certain I had reached the conclusion, only to find there was another ‘encounter’ to be had, with no clearer explanation than before. The story jumped between the present day and the events of thirty years ago, at times rewriting those events. At times I was so unsure of what had actually happened, my frustration tempted me to abandon the book altogether. And the ending was such a disappointment, I now wish I had!

Christopher Ransom is a fantastic writer, his debut novel, The Birthing House, is proof of that, and there is evidence in Beneath the Lake that that talent still exists. But the rhythm and pacing of this book are its downfall.

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