Title: Paradox Lake
Author: Vincent Zandri
Publisher: Oceanview Publishing
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐
I understand that the whole stalker-single mom trope has been done to death, but I still opted to read this one because I haven’t read too many books of this kind. And I do believe that even the most done-to-death idea can be interesting if the writing is good.
Here sadly, it wasn’t so.
Theodore “The Wolf” Peasley, held guilty of the rape, murder and mutilation of 12-year-old Sarah Anne Moore in 1986 at Paradox Lake, has just been released after 33 years in a maximum security prison. The system believes that he is no longer the criminal that he used to be, and is no longer a threat to society. However, in the minutes before he is released, Fr Sean O’Connor, the prison chaplain, realises that Theodore is just as vile and evil. He, and we, fear the worst.
Single mum Rose Conley has experienced tragedy. Having lost her older daughter, Allison, to leukemia and her husband, Charlie, to suicide, her younger daughter, Anna, now 12 years old, is all she has. Hoping to bond with Anna, before turbulent teenage hormones take over, she books herself and Anna, into an Air BnB in an isolated, off-the-grid town called Paradox Lake, where they’ve rented the old Moore house. She has taken a semester off her work at the university where she teaches art and sculpture, and hopes to sculpt while homeschooling Anna.
What she doesn’t know is that the Wolf is on the prowl and Anna could be in real danger.
The book is written in the present tense, in the third person PoV of the Wolf and the first person PoV of Rose. I appreciate the author for the narrative, for the details that helped to root us into the story.
You don’t have to be a parent to stress over the outcome of that situation. Right away I was fully invested in the plot, and I didn’t even know the characters well yet. Two vulnerable characters thrown in the middle of their worst nightmares.
And that’s where the trouble started. Having started well, however, it was all downhill from there. The author made Rose opt for the lamest of choices.
Rose was probably the stupidest character ever to be caught in danger. She did everything wrong, hiding the truth about Sarah from Anna, when she should have completed her research and packed and set off for home at the earliest. Metaphorically speaking, she’s the idiot horror movie character who runs into, not away from, the haunted house.
Rose’s penchant for talking to her dead husband and daughter wasn’t the problem, but her ability to receive advice from them that matched exactly the deluded action she planned to take certainly was. Nor could I understand the nonchalance with which she proceeded to drink alcohol when she had a child to look after and was stuck in the middle of nowhere, and could not afford to lose control over herself. Even when her worst nightmare comes to pass, she needs, in her own words, “the calming effects of the alcohol.”
The fact that the author is a male trying to write from a female PoV is evident. Does he really think that women think nothing of stripping naked in front of their kids, especially when the daughter is 12? On another occasion, Rose comes across a secluded beach and strips naked. What if someone were to come along? There are several references to the phrase, birthday suit, that are tedious. I was also put off by the gratuitous descriptions of the sex and violence.
The book was riddled with typos and errors. For example, And the blood, she runs thick. At another point, Rose tells us that she has tinsel strength. Did she mean tensile?
The constant use of names in a conversation of two people is another bother.
I wish the author had bothered to learn a little more about Catholics before foisting Catholicism on the characters. Catholics don’t hold rosary beads and whisper One Our Father after another as Rose tells us that Tim is doing.
The story seeks to bring the horror of the old children’s story, Little Red Riding Hood, into real life. The author constantly points out the danger by harping on the What-Big device as a way of conjuring horror. But there’s only so much of What Big Hands/Teeth/Tongue/Eyes etc that a reader can take. After a while, the excessive foreshadowing from the Wolf’s PoV becomes tiresome, undermining the whole effect.
Spoilers below: Stop reading here if you don't want to read them.
Spoilers: There was no explanation for how Tony reached Rose in time to save her. How did he know where to find her? She hadn’t told him anything. Nor are we given any indication of how Tony happened to get a bad feeling on the very day when the worst was about to come to pass.
Rose believes Tim, a man she met hours ago, when he says that Ed is harmless even though her own instincts are warning her that something is off with the man. Even when the name, Theodore, smacks her hard with its uncanny, unbelievable coincidence, she doesn’t question it.
She doesn’t even find it odd that Tim is being touchy feely with Anna or that he says she is attractive.
She justifies the belief by believing in Tim’s goodness, based on his good looks and others positive traits. The romance with Tim distracts her from the real danger. Once the romance takes off, she completely forgets about Anna’s educational needs. What’s worse, she seems to forget that she had initiated this trip in order to spend more time with her daughter. Suddenly leaving Anna alone in the house is not a problem at all.
It is the height of coincidence that Fr O’Connor, the Prison Chaplain, is the priest at the local Catholic church in Paradox Lake.
(I read this book on NetGalley. Thank you to the author, the publisher and NetGalley.)