Riley Sager’s The House Across the Lake – Don’t Go into the Water

Riley Sager’s The House Across the Lake brings us yet another lonely, sad woman who drinks too much, begins spying on her neighbors, and soon sets into motion events she can’t control. If that plot sounds like one from other bestselling novels – Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train and A.J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window – you aren’t wrong. All these thrillers, as well as so many films, were inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 Rear Window, where a house bound James Stewart, a photographer with a broken leg, can’t stop himself from watching his across the courtyard neighbors, and believes one of them has committed a murder. (Oh, Perry Mason! How could you?)

Stewart’s character, Jeff, wasn’t an alcoholic and only drank when his girlfriend, Lisa (a gorgeous Grace Kelly), visited with take out from fancy New York restaurants. I can’t think of a string of other thrillers where the character is male and usually inebriated. Why, then, do authors keep perpetuating this stereotype of a distraught woman hitting the bottle to cope with her problems? Hawkins’ Rachel Watson drinks gin and tonics out of cans; Finn’s Anna Fox prefers wine; and, Sager’s Casey Fletcher binges on bourbon. Even small amounts of alcohol can dull the senses, but in Casey’s case, after half a dozen tumblers of bourbon, she can never be sure she remembers actually what has happened. 

To be sure, Casey, an actress, has plenty of reasons to be depressed. During a stay at her family home in Vermont, on the picturesque yet foreboding Lake Greene, her husband, Len, a well-known producer, apparently went out for an early morning fishing trip, fell into the water, and drowned. After attending two memorial services – one in New York, the other in L.A. – Casey struggles to move on with her life. A return to the stage to star in a play, Shred of Doubt, ends in disaster when she arrives drunk and is fired. Soon she’s tabloid fodder.

At her mother’s urging, Casey returns to the lake house to stay out of the public eye. That turns out to be a bad decision for so many reasons. Alone and unable to face her demons, Casey retreats to the bottle.

Lake Greene is an exclusive community with only a handful of homes around its perimeter. One is occupied by the elderly Eli who has a soft spot for the little girl he watched grow up and, despite threats from Casey’s mother, continues to supply Casey with alcohol. While the Mitchell place is vacant, a former police officer, Boone, is staying there for the fall, doing some repairs. 

Casey’s attention is focused on a large glass structure across the lake occupied by tech mogul Tom Royce, and his model wife, Katherine. Using a pair of binoculars Len bought to birdwatch, Casey begins to spy on the wealthy, attractive couple. One day she sees a body on the lake, takes out her boat and rescues Katherine who appears to be dead, but soon comes to life. After that event, Casey and Katherine begin to spend time together. Katherine hints that her marriage is on the rocks, but that Tom would kill her before agreeing to a divorce. When Katherine goes missing, Casey believes Tom has killed her. She’s soon joined in her mission by Boone, who brings in a former police colleague, Wilma, to investigate.

The plot takes unexpected and, in some cases, unbelievable, turns. To his credit, Sager controls the narrative and delivers an ending that, while not totally satisfying, manages to pull everything together. And it may have an unexpected result, convincing anyone with a drinking problem to seek help. 

The House Across the Lake
Riley Sager

Top photo: Bigstock

About Charlene Giannetti (576 Articles)
Charlene Giannetti, editor of Woman Around Town, is the recipient of seven awards from the New York Press Club for articles that have appeared on the website. A graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Charlene began her career working for a newspaper in Pennsylvania, then wrote for several publications in Washington covering environment and energy policy. In New York, she was an editor at Business Week magazine and her articles have appeared in many newspapers and magazines. She is the author of 13 non-fiction books, eight for parents of young adolescents written with Margaret Sagarese, including "The Roller-Coaster Years," "Cliques," and "Boy Crazy." She and Margaret have been keynote speakers at many events and have appeared on the Today Show, CBS Morning, FOX News, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, and many others. Her last book, "The Plantations of Virginia," written with Jai Williams, was published by Globe Pequot Press in February, 2017. Her podcast, WAT-CAST, interviewing men and women making news, is available on Soundcloud and on iTunes. She is one of the producers for the film "Life After You," focusing on the opioid/heroin crisis that had its premiere at WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival, where it won two awards. The film is now available to view on Amazon Prime, YouTube, and other services. Charlene and her husband live in Manhattan.