The Lake by Sheena Lambert
Review by the fabulous Margaret Madden BleachHouseLibrary.Blogspot.ie
Ireland, 1975. A body has been found at the edge of a lake which covers a forgotten village. Under the calm waters lie ruins and secrets. The corpse has obviously been there for many years, and this makes it all the harder for Detective Sergeant Frank Ryan to uncover the mystery of the unidentified remains. The sleepy town of Crumm pricks up its ears at the arrival of the Dublin Garda and the local pub, The Anglers Rest, is the perfect place to discuss the gruesome facts of the case. Residents compare notes and feed Frank whatever information they have. The publican, Peggy, is delighted to have some customers coming and going and begins to enjoy the company of the young Detective Sergeant. Can the body be identified after all these years? Is there a connection to the underwater village or is it something more sinister? The story unfolds via an eclectic mix of characters and the cosy surroundings of The Angler’s Rest.
Sheena Lambert has written not only a crime thriller, but also a flashback to rural Ireland in the 1970s. Set mostly in a small family run pub, in a sleepy midlands town, the atmosphere is full of turf fires, Irish Stew and warm glass bottles of Coca Cola. Twenty Three year old Peggy has pretty much been abandoned by her family and has the heavy load of running the pub solo. She tries to make a profit by providing hot meals and dreams of owning a colour television, in order to attract more business on match days. The odd group of fishermen, and a hotch-potch of locals, make up her customer base, while her siblings live their own lives in Wexford, Dublin and London.
A short book, it take off from page one, and the reader is almost like a fly on the wall in the warm pub in Crumm. The characters come to life from the get go and as most of the action takes place in the bar, it feels more like a play than a novel. Reminiscent of The Playboy of the Western World or similar rural based plays, there is a feeling of a stage, and its actors, about it. The pulling of pints, emptying of ashtrays and calling last orders are subtly present and the sights, sounds and smells of the country pub jump off the page.
Peggy and her older siblings are the soul of the story (except the eldest, Hugh, who lives in London and only makes a brief appearance). The visiting Garda adds some spice to Peggy’s dull days and she finds herself allowing herself to dream again. Dream of travel, love, a life outside Crumm.
This may be a short read (under 200 pages) but by no means is it lacking substance. The narrative is a clever mix of 70’s nostalgia and moody, atmospheric scenery, but the heart of this novel is within its stage-like setting. The day to day activity in the small pub is where the story is. A story of family, expectations, secrets and denial. The hidden history and newly surfaced body are just the added bonus. There is room for further expansion of the characters at a later stage and should the author decide to write a sequel, or indeed a series, I would be on the pre-order list. My only (small) qualm was the short length of the book and the move from slow, steady character based chapters to an almost rushed ending with less emphasis on the players and more on the need to finish up.
Overall, a pleasant, theatre like experience that I would recommend to lovers of Irish fiction, past and present, and for less than the price of a pint!