Publisher: Random House, 2008
First line: Blue fingernails.
Christchurch private investigator Theodore Tate is attending the exhumation of a man who died two years before. Suddenly bubbles appear on the surface of the small lake in the middle of the cemetery, and several bodies slowly rise to the surface.
When the exhumed coffin is opened, it does not contain the expected occupant. And as the identities of the lake bodies are established, their graves are dug up to reveal further unexpected corpses. Could this be the work of the Christchurch Carver who has been terrorising the city for the past two years, or is there another serial killer on the loose?
The cemetery caretaker has disappeared, and Tate is sure that the priest of the little church next to the cemetery knows a lot more than he is willing to say. The police try to warn Tate away from the investigation, but his curiosity is aroused, and he can’t help but delve deeper and puts his own life in danger as a result. He steps on a number of toes in the process, and even his sympathisers in the police force begin to tire of his interference.
Tate is an intriguing, but very flawed character. A former police officer, who left the force under a cloud, he is still dealing with the consequences of the accident, caused by a drunk driver, which destroyed his family. He drinks heavily, is hardly coping with life, and for much of the book seems bent on self- destruction. The reader shifts between feeling great sympathy for Tate, and utter frustration with him. There are moments of great poignancy, particularly in the scenes with his severely brain damaged wife, when we get a glimpse of the person Tate used to be. There are also moments of incredible stupidity!
Cleave’s Christchurch is a much darker and nastier place than the Christchurch of the tourist brochures. The action is centred on the cemetery and adjacent church, mostly amid swirling mists in the dead of night, creating a very atmospheric mood. There is plenty of suspense in this book, although there is a section in the middle where the plot goes off on a bit of a tangent and the story loses its focus a little. However, it’s not long before things get back on track as we head to the thrilling conclusion.
Cemetery Lake is Cleave’s third book, after The Cleaner and The Killing Hour. It is an exciting thriller, and I look forward to Paul Cleave’s next offering.