Lake Crescent, A Creature X Mystery

Review of Lake Crescent, A Creature X Mystery by J.J. Dupuis, Dundrum Press, due out on 3 Aug, 2021

Call me superficial, but what attracted me to this book was its cover. What a superb piece of cover artwork! Dark, mysterious, and a ripple on the lake to imply something nasty lurking beneath the surface.

The blurb is roughly this: a TV crew turn up in a remote part of Newfoundland (yeah, okay, already a remote part of Canada) to make a documentary about Cressie, the giant eel said to inhabit the eponymous lake. Immersed in a small town of slightly off-beat characters, the filming progresses until they uncover a cold-case murder.

Like any whodunnit, :Lake Crescent offers a spectrum of characters in closed community. Unlike the doyen of the form (Agatha Christie – who else!) whose detectives always operated alone, Dupuis gives us more of a Scooby-Doo group with its own dynamics, rivalries and friendships. This did give the novel better texture, but by the same token, for a relatively short work, there were too many characters to keep track of. To put it another way, the group dynamics distracted from trying work out what had happened and who was the bad guy.

The other slight disappointment was the sense of place. Here’s their arrival:

We took Highway 360 around Halls Bay, one of the many fingers of the Atlantic that held Newfoundland in its grasp. Aside from the powerlines that ran parallel to the highway, only the mouth of the odd gravel driveway reminded us that we weren’t the only people on this part of the island. There were patches where the shrubbery thinned out and the evergreen trees stood like fenceposts, holding back the untamed wilderness. The road curved and we came to a bridge that spanned a river. A shrub-covered mountain filled the passenger window. The odd car began to appear on the horizon…

This is all well and good as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough. Where are the colours, where is the wind, the temperature and the smells? Is the sun a burning disc in the sky, or a white shadow on the horizon? What of the river? Rapids or a gentle burble?

There were places where the dialogue came across as stilted. This is someone speaking:

“To be honest, I didn’t really like you at first. You humiliated me that first night we met. But I knew you were smart. I knew you were going to make something of yourself. Then I heard about the stand you took. That was brave. I thought to myself, I need a smart and brave woman like that on my team….”

As an internal monologue, I have no issues with that. But for one character to say it to another?

Another let down was the creature itself. Laura, the leader of the band, is a cryptozoologist, and the creatures she seeks in this book are eels. We find one: a massive, seven-foot long conger eel. Other than being long and thin, I have no idea what such a creature looks like – are its teeth sharp, what colour is it, what do its eyes look like? – and the story left me none the wiser.

Now, this is a whodunnit, not a travel guide or a biology treatise, and as such it reads well and has sufficient action and vivid enough characters to sustain the tension until the end. There’s a nice strain of black humour, and a couple of outright jokes. All in all, a fun, if somewhat underwritten read.