We all could use a break from reality and get caught up in a fast paced psychological thriller about a wealthy widower, a girl from the wrong side of the tracks and a mysterious woman’s body found floating in the lake. In Stranger in the Lake (Park Row) by Kimberly Belle, the mysteries are layered and as information is revealed, more questions keep coming. I loved reading this book!

Charlotte grew up in a trailer park with her drug addicted mother and her little brother. She is an unlikely match for Paul, a well respected architect who’s first marriage ended abruptly when his wife drowned in the lake near his house. Now married and in love, another dead body is found in the lake by their home and Charlotte is having second thoughts about trusting her husband when she hears him lie to the police. He says he doesn’t know the woman, but she saw them talking in town the day before. To protect Paul, she also lies, and as the truth becomes murky, secrets from the past are resurrected. The neighbor, the police chief, Paul’s mother and Charlotte’s brother all seem to have secrets and the mystery of who the dead woman is, and how and why she died will captivate you and keep you guessing. Stranger in the Lake is a dark and twisty thriller, hooking you in right away while you try to figure out what and who is in the lake! Don’t miss it!

Q&A WITH KIMBERLY BELLE

Q: Getting caught up in the web of secrets among the residents of the small lake town was so much fun! How did you go about writing the different characters and their relationships to each other? Do you create an outline or a chart? 

A: I spend months working on the outline before I write the first word. My stories are complicated and have a lot of moving pieces, so I really take time to think them through. I start with the basics: character, major plot points, a one or two sentence synopsis, and then I take it from there. I brainstorm, add subplots and secondary characters, fill in and expand on the many blank spots. Once I have a fairly detailed outline, I’ll run it by my agent and editor, both of whom are brilliant at pointing out all the places it could be better. And then once I start writing, the outline helps me keep everything on track.

Q: Paul, Micah and Jax are old friends from high school that survived a tragedy together. Charlotte and Chet grew up in the same area but on the wrong side of the tracks. With such difficult memories, why do you think they all settled in their hometown as adults?

A: I grew up near where I set this story, in the mountains of western North Carolina, and it’s a place where people live for generations. I think part of that stems from the natural beauty — the Appalachians, the lakes, the rolling, smoky hills — but it’s also a big part of the Appalachian culture. Charlotte talks about this in the very first chapter: “These mountains are as much a part of me as my own skin and bones, the connection as real as the cells multiplying in my belly. If I close my eyes, I can feel the plates shifting under my feet. I am the mountains and the mountains are me. I couldn’t live anyplace else if I tried.” It’s a sentiment many people in that area carry.

Q: Many of the characters had secrets from the past but were trying to move on with their lives. Do you think we can break free from our roots and truly leave our past behind?

A: I think some people are more successful at it than others. Look at Charlotte; she grew up with the worst kind of parents and still managed to break the cycle. Sure she makes some mistakes, but she’s grown into a kind, caring adult despite everything she went through. And then there are other characters who, despite maybe wanting to change, can’t seem to get there. Ultimately, I think it’s about courage. Do the characters have the courage to admit their past mistakes and overcome them? Not everyone is capable.

Q: Do you think lying about a crime as bad as committing a crime?

A: I think that depends on the lie, but even if the lie is not punished at the same level as the actual crime, covering up a crime and allowing the perpetrators to go free is wrong. And ultimately, the truth always comes to light. That’s a common theme throughout all my stories, actually, that it might take years or even decades but the truth will be revealed eventually. 

Q: Police corruption is prevalent on tv and in books, and it occurs in your book, too. Do you think that reflects reality? Do small towns experience it more?

A: Yes, and considering what’s happening in the world right this very minute, I think it’s a very timely subject. And police corruption is an inherently scary premise. The idea that people who have sworn to protect us and serve are the bad guys? That’s terrifying! And though I’m not certain that small towns experience it more often, I do think it lends to the fear factor, the idea that someone you know — a next-door neighbor, a friend, a family member — could be exploiting their position to do you harm. It brings the suspense even closer, makes it feel even more claustrophobic.

Q: What kind of research did you do for this book? 

A: I did a lot of research around diving, and I spent lots of time on western North Carolina lakes to get a sense of place. While the Lake Crosby in this story is fictional, I modeled it after the ones in the Highlands/Cashiers area in North Carolina. It’s a place of stunning beauty, but where there’s a huge gulf between rich and poor. Wealthy outsiders have come in and completely transformed the area, carving out golf courses and building shops and restaurants and million dollar homes on the lake, and then you have the people who have lived there for generations—the ones flipping the burgers and scrubbing the toilets. This polarity makes for some very interesting dynamics. When there’s money involved, when people’s basic needs aren’t being met, their morals can become questionable, and we see that on both ends of the spectrum in this story, in both Charlotte and Paul. This dynamic is something I really dug into for this story. 

Q: You definitely know how to create a creepy atmosphere! When did you decide this type of addictive, page-turning domestic thriller was to be your forte?

A: I’ve always wanted to write a book set on a remote Southern lake. I love the small-town, rural atmosphere, the way the water can be both beautiful and dangerous. I find it the perfect setting for a suspenseful story, just like my brand of suspense tends to focus on familial relationships. Parent-child, husband-wife, siblings. I love exploring the emotions that come along with these types of bonds, mostly because they’re so universally recognizable. Toss in the suspense angle — a lying spouse, a child gone missing, a dead body — and it’s a what-if scenario everyone can imagine themselves in. That’s the appeal of the genre, I think, that people read it and think, what would I do if that happened to me?

Q: Has this book been optioned for TV and who would you want to play the main characters?

A: Not yet, though we have had many nibbles so fingers and toes crossed! And I think Julia Garner would nail the role of rags-to-riches Charlotte, and Josh Lucas would be the perfect Paul. Both are great at Southern accents, too.

Q: What will you be working on next?

A: I am currently working on a story about a home invasion, slated for publication in fall of 2021. I can’t really say much more about the story than that, though, as I’m still deep in the weeds. I don’t usually talk about what I’m writing until I make it through that first, sticky draft. More soon — I promise!

Q: What have you read that you recommend?

A: I recently tore through the paperback of Heather Gudenkauf’s This Is How I Lied, and I just finished listening to Kimberly McCreight’s The Good Marriage. Both were absolutely fabulous!

Stranger in the Lake is now available for purchase.

Kimberly Belle is the USA Today and internationally bestselling author of six novels. Her third novel, The Marriage Lie, was a semifinalist in the 2017 Goodreads Choice Awards for Best Mystery & Thriller, and a #1 e-book bestseller in the UK and Italy. She’s sold rights to her books in a dozen languages as well as film and television options. A graduate of Agnes Scott College, Belle divides her time between Atlanta and Amsterdam.