As the Colorado winter fades into memory, Detective Gemma Monroe is finishing dinner with her fiancé, Brody Sutherland when she is called to Lost Lake on the edge of Cedar Valley. Why does the scene, thought to have been peaceful and pastoral, appear to be so rough and bleak? Why is Gemma "vaguely unsettled" by her surroundings? Littlejohn's feisty detective is at the height of her powers as she attempts to weave the threads of small-town murder into a fabric that alternately keeps us flipping pages as quickly as possible to find out what happens next and hesitating to turn the page for fear of what will happen next.
Sari Chesney, the assistant curator of the Cedar Valley History Museum, has been reported missing after a night of camping with her friends on the shores of Lost Lake. Ally Chang, Sari's best friend, tells Gemma that Sari was responsible. On the other hand, Mac Stephens, Sari's boyfriend, and his cousin Jake are convinced that Sari has met a nefarious end. The lake is remote, and there's little evidence to indicate that a crime occurred. However, Gemma's investigative skills are piqued by the oddness of the surroundings. Attempting to recreate in her mind the events of the previous night, Gemma sees the roaring fire, the bottles of wine passed from hand to hand. Under the dark sky, Lost Lake shifts its color to a murky shade of cobalt ink. For the first time, Gemma notices the feeling: "there's a restlessness in the wind and a hardness to the water."
Despite--or perhaps because of--its ominous tension, Littlejohn's novel unfurls at pace that fits right into the personalities of Gemma and her colleague, Finn Nowlin. From the beginning, Gemma is preoccupied, constantly chewing on the corner of her lip and thinking about the campsite, the frozen lake and the missing woman who put a tremendous amount of work into preparing for a museum gala that would kick off the anniversary of Cedar Valley's founding. As Gemma watches Ali, Mac and Jack leave the police station, she's convinced that one of them is lying. Sari was a loving daughter, a devoted girlfriend and a dedicated employee. Pondering the morning's events, she tries to shake the sense of despair that has settled over her "like the iron-gray clouds that tower over the Valley."
Then Gemma gets a call from Betty Starbuck, director of the Cedar Valley History Museum. There's a terrible situation: a rare artifact has been stolen, the priceless Rayburn Diary written by Cedar Valley's founding father. Teaming up with the local chief of police, her boss Angel Chavez and her colleague Lucas Armstrong, Gemma attends the gala. The legend of the lake seems to pull elastically around Gemma, Finn and Chavez, layering the case with overlapping visions of lost girls. One of them was Owen Rayburns' daughter. The girls are said to haunt the lake: "I didn't believe in ghosts, but I couldn't help remembering the sad haunted feeling I'd experienced at the lake."
Gemma's spring had been relatively empty, but suddenly she has three active investigations: the stolen Rayburn Diary, Sari Chesney's disappearance, and the murder at Cedar Valley Museum. There's a strong chance that the theft of the Rayburn Diary and the murder are connected. Betty's son Kent Starbuck is back in town, with both an alibi and a viable motive for murder. Also with motive is Kent's brother, Patrick Crabbe. The two brothers born to the same mother are as different as night and day. Patrick is an apologetic businessman mired in meekness. Kent is an troubled, unapologetic man seeking redemption.
The stakes are high, but Gemma is blessed with singlemindedness. For the first time, she glimpses that her love for Brody is complicated by circumstances and by the crushing feeling that comes from being a young mother to little Grace. Littlejohn does a great job of showing Gemma's struggles as a working mother. She tracks Sari, wondering at the strong likelihood that the girl walked out of Lost Lake and vanished on purpose. Had Sari gone to Betty and asked her for money? Gemma is convinced Sari's disappearance is linked to the missing Owen Rayburn diary, including rumors of a curse and the priceless nature of the diary itself: "I no more believed in curses than I did in the tooth fairy, yet it was appealing."
This third novel in Littlejohn's series promises much more from her feisty detective. Gemma is tough-talking, savvy and vulnerable, constantly marveling at the winding, often broken road of her life with Brody. Lost Lake is easily the most beautiful lake Gemma has ever seen, representing the equal measure of good and evil that lives in each of us, a delicate balancing act that can tip Gemma's investigation one way or the other.