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As summer draws to a close, the lake beckons. We hurry to squeeze in one more weekend before the school year starts and autumn cools the water. The lake is also the perfect place to sink into a good mystery. The still, deep water; the dark, encircling forest; the hush that falls at twilight—it’s easy to imagine what might lurk just out of sight.

We’ve spent the majority of our summer weekends since the pandemic hit at the Land Between the Lakes, a recreation area between Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake. One of my favorite things to do, while the rest of my family zips around in my dad’s boat, is to take a kayak and explore the inlets around our usual campsite. There, the busy sounds of the lake fade, as if I’m the only one for miles. I’ve seen herons, raccoons, turtles, and deer as I paddle along the shore. The peaceful stillness can be misleading, though.

Kentucky Lake is a man-made lake, formed by the damming of the Tennessee River in 1944. Before the valley was flooded, the people living there were forced to relocate, leaving homes, farms, and businesses behind. The remains of those structures now sit at the bottom of the lake. Most of the cemeteries were relocated, but there were a few families who refused to relocate their loved ones, so there are some graves down there as well.

In fact, when the lake level is lowered to what is called winter pool, a piece of land known locally as Cemetery Island emerges. You can pull a boat right up to it and walk around on the small bit of land. There were five graves that weren’t relocated from this particular cemetery, and some of the markers remain, including a tall narrow one that frequently gets knocked over by boaters in the summer when it is completely submerged.

When you hear stories like that, suddenly the lake can seem as eerie as it is beautiful. Next time you’re relaxing by the water, remember that there might be more to that lake than meets the eye, as these 8 mysteries with lakeside settings illustrate.

Mirror Lake by Juneau Black

This is the third novel in the Shady Hollow series by Juneau Black (the pen name of author team Jocelyn Cole and Sharon Nagel). The village of Shady Hollow, a close-knit community inhabited by a variety of woodland creatures, is as cozy a setting as you could hope for. It’s The Wind in the Willows meets Murder, She Wrote, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

From Vera the fox reporter, to Lenore the raven bookshop owner, to Lefty the thieving raccoon, the characters are charming and funny. Mirror Lake is also set in autumn, so a perfect choice for the change in season that’s coming. While I think you could read the series in any order and still understand what’s going on, I’d recommend reading them in order.

The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager

This book is set in a defunct camp on the shore of a lake in the Adirondack Mountains where, fifteen years before the novel opens, three teenage girls disappeared, never to be seen again. Emma, the last one to see them alive, has spent the intervening years tortured by the belief that she should have done more to prevent their disappearance and painting dark forests that conceal three figures in white dresses. When the owner of the camp invites her back, this time as an instructor, Emma decides it’s time to face her past.

I’ll Never Tell by Catherine McKenzie

Another lakeside camp setting with an unsolved crime in the past. Instead of a disappearance, Camp Macaw was the scene of a brutal murder. The owners of the camp have died, leaving a will that requires their adult children to return to the camp and figure out what happened the night Amanda Holmes died. But even if they can unravel the mystery and claim their inheritance, the five can’t seem to agree on what to do with the property once it’s theirs.

I’ll Never Tell is slightly less eerie than The Last Time I Lied, and the characters are less likable, but that is by design and I still enjoyed the book.

The Vanishing by Wendy Webb

Wendy Webb’s niche is big, old, haunted houses on the Great Lakes. I love a good ghost story, and her books always deliver. This was the first one I read and remains one of my favorites.

Julia Bishop has just been widowed and, thanks to her criminal of a husband, lost everything. So when a stranger shows up and offers her a job as caretaker for his mother, a novelist widely assumed to be dead, she jumps at the chance. In true Gothic fashion, she finds herself in a large, spooky house with people who seem at turns friendly and sinister. As she begins to unravel the truth behind why her charge chose to disappear, she also finds that she is more connected to the story than she realizes.

This book has some truly frightening moments and kept me on the edge of my seat. It’s one of those I don’t like to read after dark, or when I’m alone in the house. So of course it would be perfect to take along camping.

The House Across the Lake by Riley Sager

Riley Sager’s latest novel returns to the lakeside setting he employed so well in The Last Time I Lied. This time, the setting is a remote lake in Vermont with only a few houses on its shore. The recently widowed protagonist has retreated to her family’s lake house to grapple with her drinking problem, but she becomes intrigued by the couple living across the lake. She watches them through binoculars and begins to fear that the wife is in danger, but her drinking and spying means she isn’t the most believable witness. She begins to suspect the husband may also be tied to an ongoing investigation of missing girls in the area and decides that if no one will take her seriously, she will investigate on her own.

Like most of Sager’s books, I found this one difficult to put down. I thought I had it figured out about halfway through, but was wildly mistaken. This one might make you reluctant to swim in the lake any time soon. You’ve been warned.

Shadow in the Glass by M. E. Hilliard

Shadow in the Glass is the first book I’ve read by M. E. Hilliard. It’s part of a series, but can easily be read even if you’ve not read the previous installments (as I have not).

Librarian Greer Hogan has come to the lakeside setting for her friend’s wedding, but she has an ulterior motive. Her husband was murdered and she believes that some of the guests at the wedding know more than they are telling. But her plans are put on hold when a wedding guest turns up dead in the lake and she has to turn her attention to the new mystery. I plan to go back and start at the beginning of this series, as I enjoyed this one.

Secret at Mystic Lake by Carolyn Keene

I’ve mentioned before that I preferred Trixie Belden to Nancy Drew growing up. But I’ve started to think maybe I need to read some of the original stories to see what I’m missing. This would be a good one to start with.

For her birthday, Nancy is taking a scenic, three-day bike trip around Mystic Lake with George and Bess. But their trip is soon sabotaged—slashed tires, stolen supplies, a disappearing guide. Will Nancy be able to solve the mystery before she and her friends are lost in the woods forever?

A Death in Door County by Annelise Ryan

This book will be released on September 22nd, perfect timing for a fall lake trip. Morgan Carter is a bookstore owner and in her spare time, she hunts cryptids. You know—Bigfoot, Nessie, Mothman. When a series of bodies turns up on the shores of Lake Michigan bearing bites that seem to be from a large unknown animal, Morgan agrees to assist the local police in hunting down a fabled lake monster. With her dog at her side, she heads out in search of the monster, but if she isn’t careful, she might be its next victim.

I can’t wait to read this book. While I am very skeptical, I still love a good cryptid story and would love to visit Loch Ness someday. Side note: I collect Lochs of Scotland dishes and each piece bears a picture of adifferent Scottish lake. If you look closely at the Loch Ness pieces, you’ll see Nessie out in the middle of the lake. I love it.

So there you are, eight books perfect for lakeside reading. How about you,
are you planning an end-of-summer lake trip or making plans for some
fall camping around a crackling fire? Let me know in the comments
and be sure to pack some of these books to take along.


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