Cradle Lake, by Roland Malfi is certainly a horror novel and an unnerving one at that. It begins with Alan and his wife Heather inheriting a house on the edge of the woods in North Carolina. Alan's life is teetering on the brink before the novel even starts for his wife had made more than one suicide attempt. Her depression centers around her two miscarriages. As the story begins, she is little more than a hollow shell living as a ghost.
Early on in the novel, Alan discovers that the lake behind his house has mysterious healing powers. Although the locals do everything in their power to keep its existence a secret, Alan decides to use its magical powers to heal not only him, but his injured wife. Things become more complex when he discovers that, along with the blessing of health, the waters often bestow a curse. One user of the mystic waters went on to murder his wife and then kill himself.
Alan's life takes another turn when the use of the waters helps his wife become pregnant. This joyous event soon becomes marred by the evidence of evil creeping into his life. Eerie events evolve into night terrors until Alan's grip on reality starts to slip. And things get creeper from there.
The author does a good job of keeping the reader guessing. Nothing is completely obvious. There are also some scenes that are downright scary and could remain with the reader for a while. Tension is built well and keeps the reader turning pages and wanting, but also perhaps dreading, to see how Alan's fate will play out. The author also does a great job in isolating Alan. We feel there is no where he can turn for help. His damaged wife is more of a hindrance that a partner and as the story progresses the few people he has met turn from potential friends into spies and adversaries.
Downsides could include the character of Alan himself. He makes several bad choices and perhaps could think things through a better. He could have also tried a bit harder to keep him and his safe instead of just reacting to the noose that is slowly clamping down on this throat.
Malfi brings us a strong dose of horror here. I found the book original, which is hard to pull off these days. Some parts are just eerie and disturbing. You find yourself wanting Alan to figure a way out of his mess, but know in your heart that he will not.Michael D. Griffiths