Stranger in the Lake by Kimberly Belle

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When Charlotte married the very wealthy and slightly older Paul, it caused a ripple of gossip in their small lakeside town. But her secure, charmed married life starts to unravel when a woman’s body is discovered floating in Lake Crosby, right outside their home. Immediately Charlotte remembers waking up to an empty bed, Paul later saying he went out for an early run. However, when the police begin their questioning, Paul lies and says he was home all morning with Charlotte, pressuring her to confirm his story.

What seemed like a small lie chafes at Charlotte, all the more when she realizes she saw Paul speaking to the murdered woman days before in town, though Paul claims he’s never met her. But surely there’s an innocent reason behind his lies. The victim, Sienna, was a true crime reporter, investigating an unsolved missing persons case that happened decades before and turned into a local urban legend. She was reporting her discoveries by podcast in real time.

As secrets, and people, from Paul’s past begin to surface, and his connection to the unsolved case becomes more direct, Charlotte doesn’t know who to trust – her heart who knows Paul to be a good man or her growing suspicion? Did she marry a killer? Or is someone else watching their every move?

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Available on June 9, 2020!

What I enjoyed most about Stranger in the Lake was the creepy atmosphere. Maybe it’s because I just finished the TV series Ozark (highly recommend if you haven’t watched it yet), but I found myself picturing an Ozark like community when reading and it just put me in the right mood for a mystery.  Side note: was a bit disappointed that there was no shady business deals.

I was entertained by the mystery (2 women are found dead under a dock), but found that the characters were lacking. The story is told through Charlotte (or Charlie) and I just couldn’t connect with her. She is dealing with the pressures of being a new wife to a rich man and now with a husband who may be guilty of killing women. I wish we got to know her a bit more, especially prior to her relationship with her husband (ie. before she was wealthy).

3 calculators out of a potential 5. Just an average read for me, but still enjoyable. Would recommend if the blurb sounds interesting to you!

Thank you to Netgallery and HARLEQUIN – Trade Publishing (U.S. & Canada) for an ARC in exchange for my honest review.

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Kimberly Belle photo credit Brandon Wattson

Q&A with Kimberly Belle

Q: Please give your elevator pitch for Stranger in the Lake.

A: Stranger in the Lake is a story about Charlotte, a rags-to-riches newlywed whose shiny new life takes a disastrous turn when a stranger’s body washes up under the dock of her Appalachian lake home—in the exact same spot where her husband’s first wife drowned.

Q: Which came first: the characters or plot line?

A: Plot, always. My stores are very plot driven, and they always begin in my head with a what-if scenario. What if a woman marries way, way up and then her brand new husband is accused of murder? What if it looks like he’s guilty? How much of a role would her newfound wealth—and her fear of losing it—play in her decision to stick by him? That was basically where I began building the plot for Stranger in the Lake. Character came much later, after I’d thought through all the plot points and had them mapped out into an outline. Only at that point in the process do I really start thinking about what kind of person is best dropped into that situation, someone with plenty of blind spots and issues to work through, problems the plot will really shine a spotlight on. For Charlotte, it’s money and everything that comes along with it—security, status in the community, respect. She will have to untangle all these internal issues before her story can be resolved.

 Q: Why do you love Charlotte and why should readers root for her?

A: I love Charlotte because she is a survivor. She was born into the worst possible family, an absent father and an emotionally abusive mother who left her home with a baby for long periods of time, but instead of turning bitter or following in their footsteps, she emerged stronger. She figured out a way to grow into a smart and kind and loving and trusting—maybe too trusting–person. She wants so much more out of life than what her parents offered, and she’s not afraid to work for it.

 Q: What’s the “story behind the story” for Stranger in the Lake?

A: I’ve wanted to write a lake story for a while now. There’s just something about a big body of water–the dark swirling currents, the beautiful but remote setting… It’s the perfect place to set a suspenseful story because you just know something bad is going to happen there.

At the same time, I spend a good deal of family time in the Highlands/Cashiers area of North Carolina. It’s a place of stunning beauty, but where there’s a huge gulf between rich and poor. Wealthy outsiders have come in and completely transformed the area, carving out golf courses and building shops and restaurants and million dollar homes on the lake…and then you have the people who have lived there for generations—the ones flipping the burgers and scrubbing the toilets. This polarity makes for some very interesting dynamics, because when there’s money involved, when people have too much or their basic needs aren’t being met, morals can become questionable. This is something I really dug into for this story.

Q: Last summer when I interviewed you for Dear Wife, you mentioned a project you were working on, and I believe it was Stranger in the Lake:

” I’m currently finishing up a story about a newlywed woman who discovers a woman’s body under their lakeside home dock. The police show up, and in the stress of the moment, she follows her husband’s lead and lies about ever having met the woman. It’s not a big lie, and she doesn’t really think much of it at the time, but soon that one little lie turns into an avalanche. As the police close in on the woman’s killer, she uncovers dangerous truths about her husband and her marriage, as well as dark secrets that have been simmering below the lake’s currents for years. No title yet, but coming sometime in 2020.”

Thinking back to what you told me then, what was the book like then verse how it turned out? Anything that surprises you or that really changed or that stayed the same that you were sure would stay the same?

A: I don’t remember how far I was into writing the story when I answered that question, but it must have been far because that’s pretty much exactly what happens in this story…and exactly the core of the original premise for Stranger in the Lake. A wife who lies for her brand new husband in the heat of the moment, then has to figure out if she did it because she loves and trusts and believes in him, or if it’s maybe a little bit because she doesn’t want to let go of the shiny new life he’s given her. Money complicates things. It muddies emotions and blurs moral boundaries. This is the kernel of the idea that began Stranger in the Lake.

Q: The narration of Dear Wife was so unique, what can you say about the narration/structure of Stranger in the Lake that isn’t going to spoil anything?

A: Stranger in the Lake is told largely through Charlotte’s point of view, with occasional snippets of a story many years in the past. This makes the structure much more straightforward than Dear Wife, and when I began I thought it would be an easier story to tell. Fewer heads for me to crack open for the reader, fewer viewpoints for me to keep string together just so. But once I started writing, I discovered sticking to one point of view made telling the story more difficult. Everything every other character thinks has to be filtered through Charlotte, through her reactions and internalizations. For this and a bunch of other reasons, Stranger in the Lake took me longer to write than Dear Wife.

Q: Which character in the novel is most like you and why?

A: This is a tough one! I’d like to think I have Charlotte’s tough skin and that I share her sense of loyalty, but I’m not sure I could have survived everything she has. My research taught me that far more people follow in their parents’ tragic footsteps than break the cycle like Charlotte did, and I can’t say for certain which side of the equation I would have fallen on. I do also share Paul’s drive, his innate desire to create beautiful things, but I think (hope?) that’s where the similarities between us end. I guess that’s the answer here, that like most authors I put little pieces of myself into every character—the good, the bad, the ugly.  My characters are the best and the worst of me.

Q: How can everyone find you online during promotional rounds for Stranger in the Lake, since the traditional type of tours won’t be possible?

A: A little pandemic can’t keep this author down! I have lots of online events planned, chats with bloggers and fellow authors and bookstores I’d planned to visit before this thing hit, and lots more in the works. The most up-to-date list is at www.kimberlybellebooks.com/events—and make sure to check back often. I am adding more every day.

Q: What was your last 5 star read?

A: I have a couple recent ones. I tore through the paperback of Heather Gudenkauf’s This Is How I Lied, and I just listened to Kimberly McCreight’s The Good Marriage. Both were absolutely fabulous! And Heather and I will be doing a joint virtual event on my release day, June 9th. Details are on the events page of my website.

Q: What is one thing about publishing you wish someone would have told you?

A: Just one? Hmm, I guess if I have to choose, it would be to trust the creative process. Every story is different, from the idea to the structure to the ease with which the words move from my head to my laptop to finished product. With every new story, I have an a-ha moment when I realize all the methodologies and processes I’ve used in the past won’t work with this one. I have to let all those “rules” go and let the story lead the way. Getting to The End is the hardest thing in the world, but also the most satisfying. There is no better feeling than to hold a finished copy of your book in your hand. It makes all those sleepless nights worth it.

Q: Do you have any specific writing rituals?

A: When I’m writing, I have a hard time sitting still—kind of strange for a job that requires many hours in a chair with a laptop. But it is a laptop so I move around a lot, floating around the house from my office to the kitchen to the living room to the outdoor patio. I change spots depending on my mood or the way the sun is shining through the window. Sometimes figuring out how to untangle a plot knot is as simple as a change of scenery.

Q: What can you tell us about your next project?

A: I am currently working on a story about a home invasion. It’s a premise that has always terrified me, and it hits awfully close to home as it happens a lot here in Atlanta. I even know a family that survived one. I’ve pulled in a few details of their experience for this story, then mixed in plenty more from my imagination. No title yet, but out sometime in 2021.

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