The Girls of Lake Evelyn by Averil Kenny: a thrilling journey into an exotic landscape – book review –

If shades of autumn are already casting a cloud over the last days of summer, escape into a tale of love, friendship and mystery amidst the tropical heat and wild wonders of Australia’s lush rainforests.

The Girls of Lake Evelyn by Averil Kenny
The Girls of Lake Evelyn by Averil Kenny

Featuring a runaway bride-to-be from Sydney who escapes to North Queensland in the 1950s and finds a mysterious lake with secrets of its own, this atmospheric, small-town drama is the latest sultry, sweeping novel from exciting Aussie author Averil Kenny.

Set against a stunning, exquisitely portrayed backdrop of steamy jungle, a mysterious, mist-shrouded volcanic lake, and a remote lodge with a haunting history, The Girls of Lake Evelyn is a thrilling journey into an exotic landscape unknown to many on this side of the world.

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And at its heart are two young, determined and resilient women, born on opposite sides of the tracks, but who nevertheless form a close and unexpected friendship which blossoms amidst Queensland’s misty vales and dazzling sunshine… and a host of menacing secrets.

In 1958, wealthy It-girl Vivienne George is due to marry Howard Woollcott III of the famous winemaking dynasty in the finest society wedding of the year in Sydney. But when she realises on the eve of her wedding day that, after years of duty and obedience, she can’t marry a man she doesn’t love, she flees to Barrington Downs, a small town in tropical North Queensland.

With the help of her widely travelled and inveterate bachelor Uncle Felix, Vivienne hides away at Sylvan Mist, a secluded private lodge, surrounded by the lush rainforest in a place not marked on any map and ideal, says Uncle Felix, for a woman ‘disappearing off the face of the Earth.’

Despite the lodge having a strange aura, Vivienne spends her days swimming in the beautiful, mystical Lake Evelyn close by, trying to decide what she will do with her future, and getting to know kindly dairy farmer Owen Monash, her only neighbour for miles.

It may seem like the perfect place to escape her troubles, but there's something about Sylvan Mist and the lake which put Vivienne on edge and when she meets Josie Monash, Owen’s sister whose first love is theatre production, she learns about Celeste Starr, a beautiful singer and movie star who tragically died in the lake over a decade ago and spawned a curse that has plagued the girls of the town ever since and led to several tragic drownings.

When Josie decides to stage a play about Celeste in a disused amphitheatre on the edge of the lake, with Vivienne in the lead role, the aim is to finally break the curse but it sets off a chain of dark events.

Is there any truth in the legend of the girls of Lake Evelyn, and how will Vivienne find the life she has always wanted when her past is coming back to haunt her?

A dark, disturbing mystery simmers menacingly through the pages of this intriguing and enthralling tale… an old secret that defies the heat of the endless sunshine and brings a spine-tingling chill to the combined efforts of Vivienne and Josie to give Barrington Downs a fresh start and a new lease of lost theatrical life.

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But Kenny is also a master of characterisation and it is the superbly observed development of the warm and fun friendship between the two fascinating, fearless women which takes centre stage as they battle to unpick the murky past and break the curse of the lake that has blighted the town.

And when they discover that the answers to their questions still lie in the lurid emerald green water of mysterious Lake Evelyn, and that an unseen predator lurks in the shadows, the stakes are high and the emotional temperature soars to boiling point.

Written with Kenny’s lyrical word wizardry, a welcome touch of romance, an insight into the vagaries of family life, and flashes of the dark humour that are fast becoming the author’s trademark, The Girls of Lake Evelyn has everything you want for a reading enjoyment.

(Zaffre, paperback, £8.99)