A rags to riches story that turns deadly, Stranger in the Lake explores how far people will go to keep a secret.
Readers of Kimberly Belle’s new novel Stranger in the Lake may recognize the setting as reminiscent of western North Carolina. Belle has spent time with friends on Lake Glenville near Cashiers and says her fictional Lake Crosby in this novel is modeled after the area—and its social disparities.
“It’s a pretty common thing there—people like Charlotte who have grown up and lived there for generations and the wealthier people that come in,” she explains. Her main character Charlotte grew up in a trailer park but has since married a wealthy architect and now lives high up on the hill.
The book opens with Charlotte taking her boat across the lake to pick up her husband and them returning home just as the snow starts to fall. By morning, a body has been discovered under their dock and Charlotte’s fairy tale marriage starts to crack.
Belle’s lake setting becomes like a character in this novel, and the plot thickens as the weather deteriorates. “I was looking for that claustrophobic kind of feel,” she says. “A small town, mountains, lake, especially when it starts snowing, you are stuck where you are. It lends to the whole feel.”
We also know that this isn’t the first body to be discovered below the lake’s surface. Paul’s first wife was found drowned in almost the same spot. Belle says she’s been wanting to write a book set on a lake for a long time and was just waiting for the right story to come along.
“The great thing about Southern lakes, so many of them are manmade so there are whole towns underneath there,” she says. “To me, the spookiest thing ever is swimming on top of what used to be churches, homes and graveyards.”
Charlotte’s husband Paul lies to the police when they ask him if he’s ever met the dead woman, and she backs him up even though she knows he’s not telling the truth. How far would you go to protect someone you love? Belle explores this question as her characters go to great lengths to protect their own long-buried secrets.
It’s up to Charlotte to figure out whether her husband is a good guy or a bad guy—and if there’s anyone in her new life she can really trust.
“You bend over backwards for the people you love, and sometimes they do something not so nice and even illegal,” says Belle.
Praise for this book from the likes of Samantha Downing and Mary Kubica describes Belle’s pacing as a “slow burn,” while the story “unfolds piece by devastating piece.” She says she’s always conscious of pacing, especially since she works from an outline.
“There’s nothing worse than hitting a place where it slows a story down and even going too fast is bad,” she explains. “Because it’s her [Charlotte] discovering the truth about Paul, the pacing is important. It needs to keep moving along as she’s discovering new things about her husband.”
While Belle wasn’t able to have a book release party and get out in person to talk about Stranger in the Lake, she says doing virtual events has been fun. She’s also hoping for her own waterside getaway to the beach later in the summer.
The atmospheric tone of this novel is resonating with readers though, especially those who can relate to small-town life on a lake. “As an author, all you have to do is paint the picture of the lake and the reader knows something bad’s going to happen, something’s going to disappear into that water.”
Stranger in the Lake is available now and included on our 2020 Summer Reading List.