Review: Half Moon Lake by Kirsten Alexander, by Shelley Carter

Title: Half Moon Lake
Author: Kirsten Alexander
Publisher: Bantam (Penguin Random House); 2019
Genre: Historical Fiction/Crime

When Sonny disappears without a trace in the summer of 1913, his family is thrust into the media spotlight and his case stays in the public eye for years. What is different about this case, however, is that the ‘solving’ of it sets into motion a sensational court case that forces the community to choose sides. A case of mistaken identity (or is it?) between Sonny Davenport and Grace Mill’s mute son Ned complicates the case even further, and Grace is forced to travel to Louisiana and attempt to regain custody of her child. Inspired by true events, Half Moon Lake follows the aftermath of four-year-old Sonny Davenport’s mysterious disappearance, combining themes of privilege and ethics with historical crime fiction.

The Davenport family is wealthy and powerful, and this translates into the way in which they handle the situation with the ‘reappearance’ of their missing son. Certain decisions at the hands of Sonny’s father are infuriating, but somehow Alexander makes them justifiable – there is a definite talent for character development here. I found myself having to put down the book at times, pinch the bridge of my nose in frustration at these characters, and then vent to my poor husband about what was happening in the plot. Half Moon Lake would be ideal for a book club, especially for those who are interested in both true crime and historical fiction.

Where this book stumbled, in my opinion, was the structure of the plot itself and the way the point of view was executed. The pacing seemed a little off, which affected the entire story. We are thrust into the whirlwind of Sonny’s disappearance, which then peters out into years of waiting for answers. It tended to get quite repetitive, with the only plot device pulling the story along being the occasional mention of the Great War. The more intense parts of the story don’t occur until the second half, but I do recommend continuing to read despite the initial monotony.

From an editor’s standpoint, I also took issue with the way the points of view were distinguished; or lack thereof. I would have liked to see paragraph breaks or greater distinction between characters, as I did have to go back and read passages again just to ascertain who was speaking. The overall point of view is omniscient, which also didn’t help. That being said, I found most of the characters well-constructed and fleshed out, and they were enjoyable to read.

Overall, Half Moon Lake is the ideal cosy weekend or book club pick. I definitely recommend hunkering down with a cup of tea and a blanket and reading this in one sitting. It was great to read a book from an Australian author that is not set in Australia, as I find reading books in only one setting can put me into a dreaded reading slump. If you’re a fan of true crime, I would definitely pick this up!

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