Harrow Lake

Harrow Lake was written by Kat Ellis and first published in 2020. It is a dark mystery novel for older teens containing some horror elements, focusing on a girl who is forced to stay in her mother’s sinister home town. The novel stands alone, so you do not need to read any of the author’s earlier work to fully appreciate it.

Lola Nox is the daughter of the famous Nolan Nox – a filmmaker who shot to success with his critically acclaimed horror film, Nightjar. Although Lola loves her father deeply, she is also aware that something has been missing. Her mother abandoned them when she was only small and her father has never shown any interest in letting her visit Harrow Lake – her mother’s hometown and Nightjar’s filming location. That is, until the attack.

When Nolan is stabbed during an break in at his home, Lola is sent to stay in Harrow Lake with her grandmother. Although she is initially excited, she soon learns that the town is not quite what she expected. The locals have a love/hate relationship with Nightjar and a tendency to ignore the many strange disappearances of people connected to the film.

It’s not long before Lola starts to realise that Harrow Lake hides some terrifying secrets in the old mines that run beneath the town, particularly ones that relate to a legendary monster known as Mr Jitters. As she explores the famous locations featured in Nightjar she comes to realise certain uncomfortable truths. Mr Jitters may well be real and have a connection with her mother…

Before I begin, a word of warning. Harrow Lake is certainly a novel that is aimed at older teens as it contacts some dark themes that young readers might find upsetting. This book is not overly graphic but does contain references to child abuse, rape and alcoholism, and I certainly would not recommend it to any readers who are sensitive to such things. You have been warned.

I was actually really looking forward to reading Harrow Lake based on its blurb. As you’ve probably noticed, I am an avid fan of horror stories but this one left me feeling disappointed. While the novel does contain some horror elements, it’s more of a psychological thriller that focuses on a teenage girl discovering the dark secrets of her past while exploring her mother’s home town.

The novel is atmospheric, yet slow to find its feet. The town of Harrow Lake leaves a lasting impression on the reader, practically becoming a character in its own right. The choice of location felt rural and almost lost in time, reminiscent of the likes of Silent Hill. It has a disturbing history of accidents and disappearances, with a dark local lore that is perpetuated by the sinister locals. Naturally, a majority of these locals are also not fond of outsiders. This is particularly seen in their feelings towards Nightjar – the film that literally put them on the map. A sense of isolation is what really carries the story of Harrow Lake, especially as Lola comes to learn more about the town’s creepy customs.

To talk too much about the plot of Harrow Lake is to spoil the story, so I am going to try and keep this review as short and vague as possible. My biggest issue with the novel is that it takes Lola far too long to realise that anything is amiss. The first two thirds of the story basically follow her in her day to day life as she explores the town and has a few eerie encounters with Mr Jitters, the resident Babadook-esque cryptid.

These early chapters could have been incredibly creepy and, admittedly, did have a few unsettling moments, but I unfortunately found them to be a little dull on the whole. Lola is far too quick to jump to the conclusion that Mr Jitters exists rather than settling on any of the 10,000 other rational explanations as to what is going on, and her first-person narrative really seemed to lack passion. A lot of the time, it felt a bit as though she was sleepwalking through the plot.

If you are a fan of horror films, I also feel that you might find the twist to be far too obvious. While it takes Lola up to the penultimate chapter to find out what is actually going on in Harrow Lake, a savvy reader will have figured this out within the first few chapters. Due to this, the novel did not really hold any surprises. I was also left feeling deeply unsatisfied by the number of loose ends that were left hanging. Don’t expect to ever find out what happened to the missing Nightjar crew member, or what the ultimate fates are for some of the key characters.

On the subject of characterisation, I was left feeling a bit luke-warm towards Lola. While I did start to feel sorry for her when I realised how far under Nolan’s thumb she was, for most of the novel she was just a bit irritating. She pushes people away for very little reason, perpetually seems to be unable to read a room, and was just overly melodramatic. It also took her far too long to figure out her mother’s secret, even going so far as to deny this over a far less likely explanation when another character spells it out for her.

The supporting cast of Harrow Lake were also a bit lacklustre. This was, in part, because Lola’s narrative is so self-centred and she makes no effort to get to know anyone else. The villain’s plan also ultimately did not make a lot of sense. While I won’t spoil it here, it just did not seem to fit together and crumbled the more that I thought about it. It is amazing that no one else managed to hit upon the terrible secret hidden in Harrow Lake years before Lola’s arrival in the town.

Anyhow, I think I’ve probably said enough. All in all, I was not a fan of Harrow Lake. Although it sounded exciting, it was just too predictable and slow-burning, ultimately lacking the creepiness that was promised by the blurb.

Harrow Lake can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book from Amazon.co.uk

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