Sunday, May 13, 2012

"Summer on Lake Tulaby" -- Book Review

When I first read the book description of Summer on Lake Tulaby, I was fairly sure I was going to enjoy the story, but it was a conclusion I could only draw on two facts: For one, I was already familiar with Susan Underdahl’s previous work and was a fan of her smooth, rich writing style. For seconds, Summer on Lake Tulaby was a murder mystery taking place in a small town, and in itself that combination promised delightful intrigue. The story starts at slow pace, and each character is so meticulously introduced that after a few pages I felt like I really knew all of them in person. Anyone I could imagine to meet in a sleepy town nestled around a frigid lake gradually entered the story and left a unique print. Through several chapters, I came to really know and see each of those people, not only from a physical standpoint, but also from the heavy emotions that bled through their daily actions. By the time I read half of the book and nobody had turned up dead yet, I wondered if maybe I was mistaken and this story wasn’t a murder mystery after all; I waited patiently, nonetheless delighted to read a book in which words cascaded as smoothly as soulful notes pouring out of a brassy saxophone. As I read, I found myself thinking of Susan Underdahl as the Louis Armstrong of the literary world. When the dead man showed up, I didn’t expect it at all, and I immediately went through the notes of different characters I had stored in my head, as my mind instantly shifted several gears in the desperate attempt to pinpoint the killer and restore the peace in Lake Tulaby and in the lives of those characters who were, by now, personal friends. Surprisingly, as I went through the list, each of them had a motive; each of them was ambiguous enough to be a murderer, and most of them had something to hide. From the time the victim is found, the story picks up considerable speed, and sudden, brilliant twists take the reader on a wild, unexpected ride. The end is breathtaking, and it was almost painful to read the last few pages because I knew my liaison with the characters was by now on borrowed time. Agatha Christy was the only writer I know of whose stories followed this very same model: All the characters were introduced at the beginning – the lives and vicissitudes of each person explained in minimum detail – then someone would turn up dead, and everyone was a suspect. In the end, in all the Agatha Christy’s stories I have read, the killer was always someone different than the person I would bet my money on, and her plots were always brilliant and intricate. Summer on Lake Tulaby was just like that, and I gasped when the identity of the murderer was revealed. Truly a fantastic read which will capture your heart before the mind has a chance to realize you are in for a real treat.