Now this is a clever concept: techno-thriller meets grisly ritual in a locked-room mystery that would make Agatha’s head spin… plus a side-order of supernatural tribal mysticism. Count me in! A short way into reading this I remembered that I’d thoroughly enjoyed the author’s earlier mind-bending mystery, Five Minds, which quite literally crammed five personalities into one sci-fi headspace. Black Lake Manor is rooted in a far more familiar crime-space – the isolated country house, cut off from civilisation by an extreme storm – but it’s no less challenging in many ways.
Remember those Star Trek episodes where the baffled crew go back and redo key moments from slightly different perspectives? That’s kinda what happens here, employing ancient tribal rituals (and a big black wolf) to turn back time. It’s both entertaining and more than a little bewildering, especially because the plot is further thickened by high-tech holograms which can influence events – and then disappear in an eyeblink.
It’s all so convoluted that even the bemused investigator (who happens to be the dead man’s ex-fiancée and a marine biologist as well as a part-time Canadian police officer; keep your disbelief firmly suspended) starts to think she might’ve actually dunnit. There are plenty of re-caps and finickity lists for people who like to write down timelines, clues and inconsistencies – but I was perfectly happy to sit back and watch this imaginative confection unfold.
Best bits? The clever plotting, the octopus, the flashbacks to ancient times. Weaker areas include the characters who are little more than chess pieces being shuffled around the board to fulfil the complex requirements of the tangled plot. And while the author is great at creating intriguing scenarios and answering weird ‘what if?’ questions, his writing rarely evokes the spinal tingles of a truly chilling tale. This is more an exercise in intellect than emotional impact.
However, anyone who’s watched the game of chess played between Chewbacca and 3PO will chuckle mightily at the one of the crucial elements of this story. The author also constructs plausible motives for each of his suspects, and craftily sneaks proper clues among many red herrings. I was genuinely wrapped up in solving the mystery, and thoroughly enjoyed the gratifying conclusion.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Black Lake Manor by Guy Morpuss is available at Amazon
Follow the link for more grisly murders…
…and a trio of killer sisters