Author Riley Sager has taken readers from dangerous apartment buildings to haunted estates, and his latest release brings them lakeside. In The House Across the Lake, Sager explores a number of familiar thriller tropes, subverting them all with a single jaw-dropping twist—one that some readers will appreciate, while others simply won’t.
The House Across the Lake opens with Casey Fletcher, a semi-successful actress whose life begins to spiral following the death of her husband. To numb her grief, Casey spends much of her time drinking to forget. That gets her fired from her leading role in the play Shred of Doubt. And after a very public fall from grace, her mother sends her to their summer lake house in Vermont to lie low. Unfortunately, returning to the place where her husband drowned isn’t exactly helping Casey cope. She drinks herself into a stupor each day, eventually taking up another dubious hobby: spying on the neighbors.
In particular, Casey takes a special interest in two of the lake’s newer residents: former supermodel Katherine Royce and her tech titan husband Tom. As she watches the pair, it becomes increasingly obvious that their marriage isn’t the happy union they make it out to be. In fact, Casey catches worrisome behavior through her binoculars, and her concerns escalate when Katherine suddenly disappears.
If this setup sounds familiar, that’s because The House Across the Lake is baked from the same ingredients as many other domestic thrillers. It’s reminiscent of stories like Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train and A.J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window. Unreliable narration and voyeurism gone wrong are two tropes thriller fans have seen time and time again, particularly in recent years. There’s a reason Netflix satirized such tales in The Woman in the House Across the Street From the Girl in the Window>
But even if The House Across the Lake doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it’s a perfectly serviceable mystery for the first two acts. The atmospheric setting sets it apart from similar stories, and its characters will keep readers turning the pages. Although certain developments are a bit predictable, the story remains entertaining all the way through, and Sager’s writing makes it easy to fall into the world he’s created. In that sense, it’s perfect for readers looking for a dose of escapism. But that predictability also disappears in the third act, which throws a major wrench into the story.
As The House Across the Lake approaches its ending, it proves it’s not your average domestic thriller. In fact, the book’s main twist will force readers to look at the story in a whole new light.
Because of the ending, The House Across the Lake can definitely be considered an over-the-top thriller. And it’s likely to be fairly divisive in that regard..
After a mostly straightforward plot, such a huge upheaval makes for a far more interesting story. However, one can’t help but wish there were more allusions to or build-up before the big reveal. It feels out of left field, something that could have been easily rectified with a few more hints at the book’s genre-bending nature. The strength of the twist comes from its ability to defy expectations However, it almost comes off as too surprising. For that reason, Sager fans will either love it or hate it.
Casey’s struggle with addiction may also leave readers conflicted, as it feels a bit too conveniently tied up. It’s not uncommon to see alcoholism driving the unreliable narrator, but The House Across the Lake could address the problem of Casey’s drinking better. The novel successfully captures the nuances of her addiction while she’s in the midst of it. However, her shift toward sobriety feels like the flip of a light switch—unrealistic and all too convenient
And between its too-neat conclusion and the final unexpected plot twist, one has to wonder if The House Across the Lake might have benefited from including a few more chapters. The finale is likely to be the most controversial aspect of the book, but even the first two acts deliver a middle-of-the-road experience. Sager takes readers on an entertaining ride, but it’s probably not the most groundbreaking thriller to hit shelves this year.
The House Across the Lake
is available now.
Amanda Mullen is a pop culture writer who can usually be found juggling her never-ending Netflix queue with the pile of books she needs to read. You can find her gushing about all things entertainment @peaksandpages on Twitter.