book: Blackwater Lake (2015) by Maggie James


Matthew Stanyer’s childhood was ruined by his mother Evie’s obsessive hoarding — he could never bring friends back to a house where you could barely move for the stacks of junk crowding out every room and passageway — and he moved away from home as soon as he could. Now he’s back in Bristol to help father Joe cope with an increasingly demented Evie. And then one night Joe takes Evie to the nearby Blackwater Park, where he smothers her before drowning himself in the lake.

It’s left to Matthew to go through the accumulated junk of the decades preparatory to selling the old family home. In so doing, he unearths a deadly secret from the past and discovers the aunt he never knew he had. Now Matthew must face the question: Were his parents murderers?

I found this short novel (it’s billed as a novella but reads more like a novel) moderately enjoyable, and may well seek out other books by Maggie James in due course, but I did have some reservations. I had difficulty believing that a body stored in the way described would remain both in situ and hidden for a period of decades. One of the characters, Matthew’s girlfriend Lauren, seems so little developed as to be barely more than a source of reactions that happen to be convenient at the time. That sort of thing.

Moreover, the writing was often rather clumsy, pulling me out of any atmosphere of suspense that might have been building up. The clumsiness took the form of lots of little things, minor stumbles that a light copyedit would have cleared up, but if anything that made them even more distracting.

All of that said, as an introduction to James’s writing this did serve to intrigue me.


2 thoughts on “book: Blackwater Lake (2015) by Maggie James

    • It’s an odd little book. James could easily have made a novel of it without any complaints of padding, and yet the current version doesn’t feel compressed or rushed. A clever piece of writing in that respect.

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