Who else fondly remembers that very promising first season of HBO’s True Detective? For those who crave more, look no further than Scott Kenemore’s Lake of Darkness, a period crime thriller set in World War I era Chicago which is lightly peppered with elements of cosmic horror and the unexplainable. The novel follows Joe “Flip” Flippity, a Chicago PD officer tasked with catching a serial killer preying very specifically on young black twins in the South Side. Over the course of the investigation, Flip delves deeply into both Chicago’s seedy underbelly and its potential ties to the occult and otherworldly.
I’ll start off by assuring that the novel is a fun, fast read that is definitely worth your time if you enjoy crime fiction, but know going into it that this is mostly not a horror novel. The subject matter may be horrific, and it does wind its way back to the unknowable more than once, but the bulk of the narrative is a pure police procedural. To that end Kenemore excels, creating a believable snapshot of Chicago on the eve of prohibition populated by living, breathing characters who are entertaining to follow throughout the story. This is a novel which lives and dies by its setting, which is richly detailed and lovingly crafted– from the circus tents on the outskirts of town to the seedy brothels of the South Side, Lake of Darkness sometimes feels more concerned with period exploration than the mystery at the heart of the novel.
Honestly, if there’s anything lacking in the book it’s the mystery. At almost every point I found myself less than concerned with the identity of the killer and the resolution of the case than I was with simply enjoying the adventures of the ragtag group of protagonists. This could be because there are minor exposition dumps at both the midpoint and conclusion of the novel which would have been more engaging to encounter naturally. SPOILERS FOR THE REMAINDER OF THIS PARAGRAPH! The narrative could have been much more tense had Flip discovered a connection between the Chicago elites and the killings on his own and then had to contend more with those higher powers to some degree. Instead, they all but admit their part in what’s happening and the overall stakes feel lower for it, even when Flip discovers that the story the elites want to believe isn’t the entire truth of the matter. It never feels like the cast is in any real danger from the novel’s direct antagonists either, which is kind of strange given that one of the characters does get shot.
The supernatural is another matter entirely. However rare it may be over the course of the book, the unexplainable feels oppressive and threatening whenever it shows up. It speaks to the author’s restraint that he doesn’t rely on these elements more and is willing to leave them entirely unexplained until the last chapter, which answers one too many questions but also introduces a boatload more. Between all the strangeness involving Ursula and a chilling final paragraph, Kenemore nails the spirit of what makes cosmic horror tick. I know I probably sound like a broken record, but I can’t emphasize enough how much Lake of Darkness reminds me of the first season of True Detective, and therefore feel comfortable recommending the novel to fans of the latter without reservation. If you’re looking for a fast, gritty detective romp with a supernatural angle, look no further.
8 out of 10 Fermented Ramps