Buried deep in the woods in Cornwall, England, is a home that hasn’t been inhabited in 40 years. The house by the lake, Loeanneth, is stumbled upon by a young detective named Sadie. She is on a forced holiday from work for becoming obsessed with a case of an abandoned toddler, which holds more of a personal connection than she’s admitted. While out running near her grandfather’s new home, she discovers the lake house, still haunted by the tragic disappearance of a little boy, either kidnapped or murdered, but whose body was never recovered. Alice Edevane, the home’s owner and an octogenarian writer of crime novels, has no desire to revisit what might have happened to her little brother that day. But Sadie’s persistence, the late-life revealings of Alice’s sister, and a local retired detective who couldn’t help keeping the file on this closed case, spark her interest and help uncover who Alice’s mother really was, and whatever happened to baby Theo.
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Kate Morton’s other novels are The Secret Keeper, The House at Riverton, and the two most similar to this one, The Distant Hours and The Forgotten Garden.
The Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman has a similar setting to that of The Lake House, a private college beside Heart Lake. Decades ago, Jane Hudson attended as a student, and kept the secret tragedies of her senior year, including several unsolved deaths, hidden in her journals, now lost. As a current professor, she is trying to solve who found her journals and is recreating the events, before her own life is also claimed.
Adam by Ted Dekker is a novel about a serial killer of women. His case is investigated by an FBI detective who has recently found a victim still left alive. The story also unravels in pieces of newspaper clippings which divulge the background history of the killer and what events created such a monster.
Stephen King’s The Dark Half is about a writer trying to help find and destroy a serial killer brought to life from the bestselling novels he writes, whose murders are getting closer to his own home.
The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen is also a story of uncovered family secrets that lead to a woman named Josey finally taking control over her life from her mother, and finding friends who are more like family.
Sadie’s grandfather Bertie has a famous pear cake recipe that he makes several times throughout the novel. While he doesn’t specify anything in the recipe, I chose flavors that would complement the pears without overwhelming it. This is my estimation of what Bertie’s Pear Cake would taste like, but in cupcake form.
Pear Spice Cupcakes
Ingredients: (for cupcakes and frosting)
- 4 cups cake flour, sifted
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- 5/8 tsp allspice
- 3/4 tsp ground cloves
- 1 ½ cups light brown sugar
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract, divided-1 for cupcakes, 1 for frosting
- 4 large eggs, beaten
- 3 1/2 sticks (2 3/4 cups) salted butter, softened to room temperature, divided
- 3 1/2 bosc (brown) pears, 1 1/2 peeled and diced, 2 unpeeled and thinly sliced
- 1 ⅓ cups buttermilk
- 3 cups powdered sugar
- ½ cup milk, 2%
- 4 oz cream cheese, room temperature
- 1 tsp plus a little extra all-purpose flour, for dusting
- olive oil spray, for baking pans
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease two dark non-stick cupcake pans with 100% pure olive oil spray, then dust with all purpose flour.
- Peel and chop 1 ½ bosc pears into small diced pieces. Cut the 2 additional bosc pears into thin slices. Do not peel these.
- Mix together in a medium bowl: 1 tsp of all purpose flour, 1 tbsp of light brown sugar and 2 tsp of cinnamon. Add in the chopped pears from step 1 and toss until well coated
- Cream together 1 cup (2 sticks) butter and the ½ cup of granulated sugar until fluffy (approx. 3 minutes on medium high speed) in a stand mixer
- To this mix, add the beaten eggs slowly, with the mixer on low speed, as if you were adding them one at a time. When all of the eggs are incorporated, add 1 tsp of vanilla
- In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, the rest of the brown sugar, and the remaining spices (nutmeg, allspice, cloves).
- Add buttermilk and dry ingredients to the mixer on low speed in an alternating pattern. Start with the about ⅓ of the dry mix, then about ⅓ of the buttermilk. Continue until all are completely combined.
- With a rubber spatula, gently fold in the cinnamon, sugar, diced pear mixture (do not use stand mixer). Scoop about 2 tbsps of mixture into each muffin tin. Add the sliced pears to the top, pressing gently into the batter. They can be placed in rows, or in a circular form. Get creative! Bake for 22-26 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean of raw batter from the center of the cupcakes.For the frosting: In the bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed, whip together the butter and cream cheese until mixed together. Turn the mixer to low or medium low, and add one cup at a time of the powdered sugar. After the first cup is fully incorporated, add the tsp of vanilla. Be sure each ingredient is fully incorporated before adding the next. You may need to stop your mixer a couple of times and use a spatula to scrape up anything from the very bottom or sides of the bowl that is not being fully mixed in. After the second cup of powdered sugar, add half of the milk. After the third cup, add the rest of the milk. Wait until the cupcakes are completely cooled (at least fifteen minutes) before frosting them.
- Sadie loved the smell of summer rain, which Bertie told her came from a type of bacteria. What kind, and what is the process? Do you know the name for this smell? She believed that “it proved that good things could come from bad if the right conditions were applied.” What are some examples of how this applies to her character’s story, or to those of the other characters in the book?
- Donald told Sadie that if she were to “work this job long enough and eventually a case gets under your skin. It means you’re human.” Why else did the Maggie Bailey case get under Sadie’s skin? If Donald was speaking from personal experience, what type of case might have been the one to do the same to him?
- Eleanor’s father had once said to her that “The poor might suffer poverty, but the rich had to contend with uselessness, and there was nothing like idleness to eat away at a person’s soul.” How did this advice prove true in her life experiences? How did it apply to others she knew? Is it really then such a blessing to be rich, or better to be poor and contribute more to society? What would she have thought?
- Why did Alice choose to be a crime novel writer? Was she correct when answering in an interview that “murder in and of itself was not engaging; it was the drive to kill…the fervors and furies motivating the dreadful act that rendered it compelling”? Is this why so many crime TV shows and novels are popular? Are there any that you enjoy, and if so, why?
- Sadie felt that “A house without occupants, especially one like this, still filled with a family’s possessions, was the saddest, most pointless thing on earth.” Why did she feel this way? Are some people, or is anything else, actually sadder?
- Why, according to Donald, Sadie’s partner, is “Loss of objectivity, the intrusion of emotion into the realm of the rational…among the worst criticisms you could level at a detective”? Why was Sadie so ostracized for her attachment to Nancy? What are some of the possible dangers of her actions in a detective’s line of work, such as the previously mentioned?
- How was Alice Edevane’s father responsible for her success as a writer of crime mystery novels? Consider the attention to detail he expected of her on their nature walks: “Paint a picture in your mind…but don’t just see the tree. Notice the lichen on the trunk, the holes made by the woodpecker…” And how he would expect her to recall those details days later. Why are such details important to a writer, especially of crime novels?
- A few short portions of chapters are written from the perspective of Theo Edevane. The first is when he is “only eleven months old and far too young to understand about time.” allow that concept to sink in a minute. What must life be like from his perspective, and how are his days divided? Is this one of the challenges that makes learning difficult at such an age, or easier? Why? Are pets similar in this way? “How could imagining such a perspective affect us as parents? Why, then, if time is not yet a graspable concept for a child, is a regular schedule so helpful for children, especially young ones?
- Alice insisted in an interview that “A writer never destroys her work!…even if she loathes it.” Why did Alice never destroy her first novel, even though she preferred to keep it secret? Why would she never destroy her work, when other writers have? What is the difference between these two types of writers?
- Alice Edevane is of a different generation with a very different mentality than that of Sadie and Peter. People had been difficult back then…there was far less talk of one’s emotions. People were taught from childhood not to cry when they were hurt, to be good losers, not to acknowledge fears.” Why was this important in a generation living through a world war? How is this different from Sadie’s generation, or the one following them? Did the war make Alice like that, or were they like that because of the war? Is it better to be stoic, or emotional? Why, and in what circumstances? What are the consequences in our world today as a result of our emotionally-driven, easily-offended society? Is this something new, or have previous generations been the same war (think of the baby boomer, hippie 60’s generation). For extra reading on the generations, look up the book Generations: The History of America’s Future by Neil Howe and William Strauss.
- “I can live with my own grief when I think of him happy.” Why does thinking Theo is happy make it easier for Clemmie to accept her loss? Does this only apply to her situation, or to all who have lost someone, in some capacity? Why do so many people feel this way? There are also some who do not, who wish someone lost (usually from a romantic relationship) to be miserable. Why?
- Alice makes her villains mostly unlikeable. But Ben asks, “people aren’t like that, though, are they, all bad or all good?” Is there good, even in the most wicked of people, or bad in the most kind or good? How can these two coexist? What makes people lean one way or the other? Are there any characters in this story who could easily be labeled as “good” or “bad” or are they all somewhere in the middle?
- There were so many aspects of Eleanor that her daughters didn’t know. Is this the way of all mothers, of parents? Why does Eleanor keep herself secret from her children? What are other reasons some parents do the same? Why did each of the parents in this book hide themselves partially or completely from their children? Is that always the best choice for the child (compare Eleanor and Sadie)?
- An article Sadie found suggested “that returned soldiers who spent most of the day trying to forget their fears and memories were far more likely to fall victim during the silence and isolation of night when sleep weakened their self-control…” Why? Was there anything to be done for Anthony at that time period, or was he restricted by the limited knowledge and understanding of PTSD at the time? Was that all that bothered him at night, or was it also the career he had to give up? What kept his fears at bay during the day?
- Donald told Sadie that “thoughts about motive were a distraction. They stopped people from seeing what was right in front of them if they couldn’t straight away explain it.” What might make him feel this way? Was he right, in the Maggie Bailey case? What should detectives like Sadie have focused on then, instead of motive, to help her solve the case more quickly?
- “As a child, Eleanor had never realized how much enjoyment could be gained, as an adult, simply from sitting. The absence of demands and expectations, of queries and conversation, was a true, simple joy.” Was this true for her only because she had so many people making demands on her time, from her children, to her mother and husband, or was this something she might have enjoyed even if she didn’t have all of those people? What is the point of sitting, or what is she doing with her mind at this time, that it brings her such joy?
- Sadie was finally able to walk and look around Theo Edevane’s bedroom, and doing so, she observed “Those walls had seen everything, but the room wasn’t talking.” Did the walls keep evidence of their secrets? Do some memories leave a mark on a place, regardless of the amount of time that has passed?
- “People could keep their drugs and alcohol, thought Sadie, there was nothing as thrilling as unraveling a puzzle, particularly one like this.” Why did Sadie prefer the puzzle of an intricate case over other addictions? Why does the puzzle of a good mystery or detective case appeal to so many people? Is this also why unsolved crimes are so fascinating for some people, no matter how gruesome the crime? Are there any such examples you can think of?
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