Echo Lake by Letitia Trent (Dark House Press, June 2014)-Emily Collins has been spending the last 5 years or so working to support herself and her musician husband, while he plays gigs and crashes at friends’ houses. When Emily discovers that he’s been cheating on her (probably for a while), instead of breaking down, she throws him out, and discovers newfound freedom. Perhaps it’s fate, then, when she gets a letter notifying her that her Aunt Frannie has died, and left her Heartshorne, Oklahoma house to Emily. It’s almost too easy for Emily to shed the remnants of her old life, and head to Heartshorne, the place that her mother had left so long ago, vowing never to go back.
When Emily finally arrives in Heartshorne, she finds that Frannie’s house is a little dilapidated and worn, but that’s ok, because it’s hers. Soon she is greeted by the local Reverend, Levi Richardson, and soon learns that Frannie was actually killed in the home. In spite of that, Emily feels a connection to Heartshorne, and after finding out a terrible secret about her mother’s childhood that she never shared, Emily decides to find out the truth. She starts digging, with the help of a new friend, Jonathan, whose talent with tarot serves to strengthen Emily’s resolve, and whose companionship Emily comes to cherish. When more people disappear and start turning up dead, Emily feels compelled to make things right.
The title refers to a man-made lake in Heartshorne that serves as a literal and metaphorical repository of secrets. It’s dark, and beautiful, and sometimes gives off a menacing fog, but it seems to draw evil like a moth to a flame. We’re given the strong sense that Echo Lake is the key to just about everything, but Trent reveals its influence in snippets, some of them horrifying, some of them simply creepy, and it’s her fantastic sense of time (both past and present) and place, with Echo Lake at the center, that really propels this chilling book forward. If you’re looking for a heavy-handed horror tale, drenched in the supernatural, you won’t find that here. What you’ll find is a subtly menacing tale of secrets, murder, and home-grown vengeance, with a sometimes surrealistic veneer. It’s also a coming of age novel; alongside Emily’s journey (yes, she’s an adult, but when she leaves her old life behind, she’s only really beginning her true adulthood), we get the story of her mother Connie’s loss of innocence as a young, brash, headstrong girl of only 13. As Emily digs into her mother’s past, it starts to become clearer to her as to what made her mother what she was as an adult (she has since died of cancer), and as a mother, and it’s an important part of Emily’s journey. I really enjoyed this story of self discovery wrapped in a slightly supernatural murder tale. Letitia Trent has a poet’s grasp of language (as she should, since she’s a published poet), and this works so well in this atmospheric, creepy gem. This is a good book, and I’m really looking forward to what comes next from this talented author.