Shadows on the Lake
Shadows on the Lake is the latest Eclipse Gothic romance from Leona Karr, who wrote the first book in the promotion last year. That book wasn’t very good, and I hoped this one would turn out to be better. It might be ever-so-slightly more readable, but it’s still not a good book, not at all.
Courtney Collins is a young mother to a four-month-old son, as well as a recent widow. Her husband died in a construction accident shortly before the birth of their baby, leaving Courtney all alone. Her parents died years earlier, and she only has one family member left, an aunt whom she hasn’t seen in years. Then Aunt Devanna writes to her and invites Courtney to join her for the summer on a houseboat she’s renting on a lake in Manitou, Idaho. Eager to reconnect with her only living relation, Courtney gladly accepts.
But when Courtney arrives, her aunt is nowhere near as friendly as she was in her letters. Instead, she’s distant and aloof, making no attempt to get to know Courtney at all. The only thing she shows any interest in is Courtney’s baby, Jamie. The summer would be unbearable if it weren’t for Neil Ellsworth, the local realtor who rented them the houseboat. He shows a clear interest in Courtney, and though her first instinct is to avoid him, they soon begin to spend more time together.
This is one of the most boring books I’ve read in some time. The suspense is thin, the mystery is nonexistent, and the story lacks any interest. It gets off to a bad start from the very beginning, with a prologue that reveals far too much information. In the first two pages, the author reveals that the woman Courtney believes is her aunt is an impostor. She’s actually a crazy bank robber who killed Aunt Devanna, carries on conversations with her dead partner, and wants to get her hands on Courtney’s baby. Basically, the entire story is exposed on the first two pages. It could have been mysterious and perfectly gothic had Courtney arrived and the reader was left to wonder why the supposedly nice “Aunt Devanna” seemed so sinister. Instead, the reader already knows all the answers, so where’s the mystery?
Even if the author hadn’t tipped her hand too soon, it takes a while for any kind of suspense to develop. The early parts of the story focus on the very dull romance. Neil visits Courtney at the boat. She goes on a date with him. He takes her to meet his family. Both characters are shallow and wooden, and there’s no romantic spark between them whatsoever, so it was hard to care about their gradually evolving relationship. Meanwhile, “Aunt Devanna” acts strange, ignoring Courtney and fixating on the baby. Even though Courtney doesn’t know what the reader does, it’s so obvious that something’s wrong with the woman that Courtney seems like an idiot for not getting away from her. If I were stuck on a houseboat with someone who was as rude, hostile and downright weird as “Aunt Devanna,” I would be making plans to head back home ASAP. Instead, despite feeling uncomfortable around the other woman, Courtney seems content to stay there and be treated like garbage.
Worse, her willingness to stay in this creepy situation makes her seem like a bad mother. Devanna is frighteningly possessive toward the baby, so much so that any sensible parent would have serious qualms about letting her anywhere near their child. Heck, I’d feel uncomfortable having this woman around a pet goldfish, let alone a baby. Whenever Courtney takes the baby with her instead of leaving her with her “aunt,” Devanna’s reaction verges on deranged. One night Courtney is lying awake in bed when she realizes Devanna is leaning over the baby’s crib to take it from the room. When Courtney tells her to leave the baby alone, “her aunt looked angry enough to attack her.” Courtney just decides Devanna must be sleepwalking and she should lock her door in the future. Never mind that the woman also acts like this in the daylight hours.
Eventually there are some attempts on Courtney and Neil’s lives, and the characters waste time trying to figure out which one of Neil’s angry business acquaintances is responsible when we already know it’s none of them. Then “Devanna” finally kidnaps the baby. That’s not really a spoiler because the back cover reveals it, it’s obvious from the prologue where the story’s headed, and it happens early enough in the book that there’s plenty of tedium left to go after it occurs. Anyway, Courtney blames herself for not seeing through Devanna, which is the most sensible thing she says in the entire book. Neil comforts her and tells her it’s not her fault, which is the stupidest thing he says. This is one of those books where the heroine is supposedly desperate to get her abducted child back, but that doesn’t stop her from spending time thinking about her relationship with the hero and having (tepid) sex with him. Because it’s not like she has anything better she should be thinking about or anything. I mean, her baby’s just been kidnapped, but whatever. Young mothers deserve to have sex lives too.
I’ve enjoyed some of Leona Karr’s books in the past, but not this one. Though her style is readable enough, this story is just so boring. It’s not very gothic. It’s not very romantic. And it’s certainly not good.