When I picked up a copy of Beneath The Lake in a 3-for-£5 deal at The Works, I looked at the cover photo and the blurb on the back of the book and thought that it sounded like just the kind of psychological thriller that I enjoy reading, probably a work of crime fiction, quite possibly involving a ruthless serial killer. Well, it wasn't at all what I was expecting - and even now that I've finished it, I'm still not entirely sure what it was all about !
OK, let's start off with the blurb that sounded so promising :
Thirty Years Ago
On a camping trip by a remote lake, the Mercer family enjoyed the vacation of a lifetime - until a violent tragedy forced them to make a decision that would haunt them for ever.
When the younger Mercers learn their father is dying, the family reunites at the lake, seeking a second chance to put their lives back together. But something is waiting . . .
Four Days of Hell
Also arriving at the lake are estranged son Raymond Mercer and an alluring stranger, Megan, both ignorant of the family's secrets. Within hours, they are all trapped in a relentless nightmare and fighting for their lives.
Some places are better left. Some secrets are better forgotten. Some people are better dead.
Oooh it all sounds very creepy ! And it was - it got off to a great start, with now grown-up son Ray having serious misgivings about reuniting with his rather dysfunctional family, which created an interesting and plausible backstory. With friend (with benefits, if he's lucky, he hopes) Megan in tow, providing him with a fake girlfriend so that he doesn't look like such a loser, he heads off back to the lake where the last family camping trip ended in disaster.
We've seen the events unfold through Ray's 8-year-old eyes - the freak storm rolling in while he was alone in the caravan, watching the lake going crazy with big black waves, his family playing in the rollers unaware of the danger then getting involved in an altercation with another family that seemingly ended in a violent fist fight, ... - all very sinister and dark, but kids often have a warped view of things so we're still not really sure what actually went on. As they approach their destination, the creepy local waitress warning them that the lake is closed because of all the tragedies that kept happening there and that they should stay away, cranked up the sense of foreboding by several notches, as did the unusual quantity of roadkill along the way.
But this is where things started to get a little too weird and a little too muddled. The lake has been partially drained so they drive around trying to find their bearings, stumbling across weird figures in the distance that totally freak them out - I was still thinking that this could be their imaginations getting the better of them in the eerie darkness, especially after the waitress's creepy stories. As things unfold, there's no two ways about it though - whatever's out to get them isn't human but goodness knows what it is. From creeping black sludge and alien-like cocoons to unknown time-space dimensions and time travel, there is just too much getting thrown at you in rapid succession for you to get your head around it all, even with a suspension of disbelief. I felt like I was channel-hopping through a series of 80's horror movies - the loose idea of Cocoon, mixed in with Tremors, with a bit of The Blob and Poltergeist thrown in for good measure !
If I'd come to it expecting a supernatural horror story, I'd have probably enjoyed it more, but I was wrong-footed by the blurb and expected something more believable. The ending (or rather the several almost-endings) kept leaving me thinking it was all going to be a dream or a figment of the 8-year-old Ray's imagination, and to be honest, I'm still not entirely sure what the final scenes were supposed to be - heaven? some realm that only exists in this weird Nebraskan dimension ?! Whatever it was meant to be, it left me feeling confused and on the whole unsatisfied. If you like the weirder Stephen King stories, you'll probably enjoy it though, and it could be a good one for a book group, to see what everyone else makes of it !
star rating : 2.5/5
RRP : £7.99