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  • Writer's pictureJudith D Collins

The Stranger At Black Lake

A Jess Lambert Novella #.5

ISBN: 9781738518401

Publisher: Intrigue Ink Publishing

Publication Date: 03/19/2024

Format: e-book & paperback

My Rating: 5 Stars + (ARC)


Secrets, murder and revenge converge in this gripping prequel to Amazon charts bestselling thriller, These Still Black Waters, about a young Jess Lambert drawn into a deadly cat-and-mouse game. Because old ghosts often have old scores to settle.

Jess Lambert and her husband, Mac, have just moved to Black Lake, looking for a quieter, more peaceful life. Until one morning Jess befriends a stranger—beautiful and glamorous Annie Parker—who’s also just moved to town.

Only a few hours later, Jess finds Annie wandering naked and in shock along the lake. And at Annie’s house she encounters a gruesome scene that shows a violent attack. But then Annie disappears.

As Jess is pulled deeper into the mystery of what happened to Annie, she learns about the house’s chilling past. And she begins to wonder: who was Annie really? Is she a witness, murderer, victim?

But it’s dangerous hunting down old ghosts. And Jess becomes increasingly unsure if she’s the hunter, or the prey. Who is the stranger at Black Lake?

About the Author

Christina McDonald is the USA Today and Amazon Charts bestselling author of These Still Black Waters, Do No Harm, Behind Every Lie and The Night Olivia Fell (Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books), which has been optioned for television by a major Hollywood studio.

Her writing has been featured in The Sunday Times, Dublin,, and Expedia. Originally from Seattle, WA, she has a BA in Communications from the University of Washington and an MA in Journalism from the National University of Ireland Galway. She now lives in London, England with her husband, two sons, and their dog, Tango. She’s currently working on her next novel.

Christina enjoys reading, hiking and lifting weights at the gym. She always wanted to be a writer, and told her earliest stories to her two younger sisters, who were her first audience, cheerleaders and sounding board. She has a BA in Communications from the University of Washington, Seattle and an MA in Journalism from the National University of Ireland, Galway.

Going to college in Ireland wasn’t part of the master plan, but happened randomly when Christina went travelling and arrived completely jet lagged at Heathrow Airport in London, caught sight of the Aer Lingus desk, and spontaneously bought a ticket to Ireland. She loved it so much she went back the following year to study.

She is currently writing her next novel. WEBSITE

Exceptional Authors. Standout Books.

Elevator Talk.


Welcome to #LitLift A Mini Elevator Author Chat

with Bestselling Author Christina McDonald

The Stranger at Black Lake


Q. Give us your best ELEVATOR PITCH for your new book.   


CM: A woman encounters a brutal murder scene at a new friend’s house, only for her friend to mysteriously disappear shortly after, drawing her into a deadly game of cat and mouse. 

Q. DESCRIBE your novel in three words or less.

CM: Haunting. Thrilling. Emotional.

Q. TOPICS: Name 1-3 topics or themes addressed in the novel?

CM: Secrets, murder and revenge

Q. DID YOU KNOW? Name 3-5 things that readers may not know about THE STRANGER AT BLACK LAKE or the Jess Lambert series.  

(About the book, main character, series, your writing, research, favorite scene or chapter, inspiration, spark, etc.)

  1. The Stranger At Black Lake is the prequel novella to the Jess Lambert, and it is Detective Jess Lambert’s origin story, when she first moved to Black Lake.

  2. I wrote it for my readers who loved Jess so much that I didn’t want to let her go.

  3. My favorite scene is after Jess returns from her run only to find Annie wandering in shock along the lake wearing nothing but a pair of red shoes. She helps Annie home to her house, only to encounter a brutal murder scene. And that’s when she realizes the shoes aren’t just red. They’re saturated in blood. This scene, when Jess realizes Annie’s shoes are saturated in blood, is the first scene I imagined, and the entire book developed around that. It still gives me goosebumps to imagine myself in that scenario!

Q.  UPCOMING: Can you share what you are currently working on or what is next in ten words or less (or more)?

The next book for me is the second in the Jess Lambert series, What Lies In Darkness. (The first is These Still Black Waters.) What Lies In Darkness is about a teenager who regains consciousness after a car accident only to discover her entire family has disappeared, and the Detective Jess Lambert, investigating the case a year later.


Q.  DID YOU KNOW? Name 3-5 things that readers may not know about YOU, the author.

  1. I like to write while listening to hard core dance music. No lyrics, just a hard beat. (Otherwise I start typing the words). 😉

  2. I grew up in Seattle, got a MA in Journalism in Ireland, and now live in London, England.

  3. I used to write stories for my sisters when I was younger, fantasy and fairy tales when I was a girl, and romance and heartbreak as a teenager. Then I became a journalist and had to focus on facts for a while. Now I’m back to imagining stories, although they tend to get darker and darker the older I get!


Thank you, Christina, for spending time with us today!

THE STRANGER AT BLACK LAKE is available in e-book and paperback formats.


Praise for the Jess Lambert Series

“Christina McDonald has written a thrilling novel that keeps you engaged throughout.”

—Red Carpet Crash

“Atmospheric and inventive, Christina McDonald’s These Still Black Waters pulled me in on page one and held tight. In this haunting and beautifully written thriller chock full of secrets that won’t stay buried, McDonald is a masterful storyteller. A truly nightmarish trip to the lake guaranteed to keep readers enthralled.”

—Heather Gudenkauf, New York Times bestselling author of The Overnight Guest

“These Still Black Waters has it all: electric writing, complex characters, a touch of the supernatural, and whiplash twists guaranteed to keep you up long past your bedtime.”

—Jess Lourey, Amazon Charts bestselling author of The Quarry Girls

“Christina McDonald always delivers a gripping, twisty thriller, and These Still Black Waters is no exception. Detective Jess Lambert, damaged both physically and emotionally, must stop a killer set on avenging the dark secrets of the past. But as the body count rises, and the story hurtles toward a shocking and unique reveal, Jess must face her own demons before it’s too late.”

—Robyn Harding, bestselling author of The Perfect Family

“No one does dark heartbreak like Christina McDonald—and this captivating thriller wraps its sinister self around you the minute you begin. Gorgeously written and deeply immersive, this relatable story of envy and grief and motherhood and friendship will also haunt you long after you close the final shocking pages. Edgy, original, and completely surprising, These Still Black Waters is a triumph of storytelling.”

—Hank Phillippi Ryan, USA Today bestselling author of The House Guest

“Christina McDonald shines in These Still Black Waters, a dark and dazzling thriller. The twists and turns culminate in an ending we promise you won’t see coming. Highly recommend!”

—Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke, authors of Forever Hold Your Peace

“A whip-smart and completely unexpected story of a killer out for revenge and a damaged detective out to stop him, a phenomenal story built on gorgeous prose and twists so surprising they'll leave you breathless. This is not the book you think it is, and I mean that in the best possible way.”

—Kimberly Belle, internationally bestselling author of The Personal Assistant

“Utterly compelling. In Detective Jess Lambert, McDonald has captured the perfect mix of gritty determination and haunted soul. With twists and turns everywhere, What Lies in Darkness delivers the kind of page-turner you don’t just read but devour.”

—Lisa Gardner, New York Times bestselling author

“What Lies in Darkness is a riveting story about the love of family, the devastation of loss, and the secrets we keep. And it has earned Christina McDonald a place in the pantheon of thriller-writer greats. Change your plans for the night because you won’t be able to put this one down.”

—Alex Finlay, If Something Happens to Me

“Jess Lambert is my new favorite detective! Christina McDonald’s What Lies in Darkness is a must-read. Every single character leaps off the page. The story grabbed me on page one and didn’t let go until the last shocking, twisty page!”

—Debra Webb, USA Today bestselling author of All the Little Truths

“What Lies in Darkness is both a smart and edgy mystery and a searing portrayal of loss and betrayal. In Detective Jess Lambert, McDonald has gifted crime fiction with an unforgettable lead, a woman both in love with and struggling against the ghosts that haunt her. I tore through this, mesmerized by the dueling perspectives, hypnotized by McDonald’s prose, and shocked by twists that kept coming all the way to the very last page. This is the perfect book for readers who love their thrillers fast paced and deeply emotionally intelligent.”

—Ashley Winstead, author of Midnight Is the Darkest Hour

“Eerie and evocative, Christina McDonald’s genre-bending police procedural / paranormal mystery masterfully (and beautifully) explores grief, loss, longing, and healing. The stakes are high, the tension is palpable, and the secrets are explosive. Be prepared for breath-hitching twists you never saw coming.”

—Marcy McCreary, author of The Summer of Love and Death

“With richly drawn characters and striking imagery, Christina McDonald delivers a taut, thick-with-atmosphere puzzler that doubles as a meditation on resilience in the face of trauma and an exploration of the sacrifices we make for those we love. Don’t miss it!”

—E. G. Scott, internationally bestselling author of The Rule of Three

“Shocking, atmospheric, and tense, What Lies in Darkness is an emotionally powerful and twisty page-turner. With rich prose and multi-faceted characters, McDonald has expertly crafted a genre-bending supernatural thriller, making it an absolute must read!”

—Jeneva Rose, New York Times bestselling author

“What Lies in Darknessis a smart, twisty thriller you won’t soon forget. Expertly crafted, with complex and fascinating characters. I am hooked on the Jess Lambert series. It keeps getting better and better.”

—Samantha Downing, internationally bestselling author

“What Lies in Darkness follows Jess Lambert through a perplexing case when a family goes missing, leaving one girl behind. Skillfully plotted with finely tuned prose, this compelling thriller will leave readers wanting more from McDonald and the flawed but wonderfully human protagonist she’s created!”

—Wendy Walker, nationally bestselling author of What Remains

My Review

Master storyteller Christina McDonald (favorite author) returns following THESE STILL BLACK WATERS (Top books of 2023) and her popular Jess Lambert series (which wowed readers worldwide) with a dazzling novella THE STRANGER AT BLACK LAKE. —a gripping, twisty prequel that packs a punch.

Engrossing, Atmospheric, Addictive, Riveting! From murder, revenge, and shocking dark secrets. Jess arrives in Black Lake and gets more than she bargained for when the past collides with the present in this thrills-by-the-minute suspense.

Readers will eagerly await the release of the next book in the series, What Lies in Darkness coming 16 July 2024.


THE STRANGER AT BLACK LAKE has it ALL and the suspense of a full-length, riveting thriller with a winning main character you care about. Perfect pacing, intense, action-packed, and edge-of-your-seat suspense and twists—one of my favorite novellas!

REWINDING: We go back to the time before Jess became a detective to her arrival years earlier to Black Lake from Brooklyn, New York, with her husband Mac (who grew up here), an attorney who is joining his dad's firm. Jess experienced a traumatic event as a paramedic from an attack and is unsure about her career choices at the moment.

There are several threads:

HIM: A mysterious voice. Someone has been released from prison who swore he would find her. Appears he thinks of himself as a monster and hiding out.

JESS: She is trying to overcome a traumatic past and is excited about their new home in Black Lake. However, she stumbles upon a murder and strange events, leading her to significant sleuthing. She is also nervous about someone out of prison.

ANNIE: One morning after her arrival, Jess meets a lovely young woman named Annie at the local coffee shop. Annie says she and her husband moved to The Gingerbread House, which locals say is haunted.

The ongoing old tale is about a woman who drowned herself years ago after an unhappy marriage. Afterward, she haunted her husband, a vengeful ghost who went insane and killed himself. People say they see the woman's ghost walking near the lake.

Annie says she is an elementary school teacher, and her husband, Olly, is a doctor. However, later in the day, Jess sees Annie walking naked near the lake in only bloody shoes. It is as though this woman was hypnotized and under some evil spell.

She seemed disoriented, and Jess assisted her back to her home. What she finds is blood everywhere and a dead body. When Jess goes to retrieve the woman's clothes for her, she finds a photo, a newspaper clipping (1996) about two missing boys, in her drawer, and a gun. However, when she returns the woman named Annie has disappeared.

However, the one strange notice before she disappeared was the words Memento Mori and a snake tattoo across the top half of her back.

After meeting the detective in charge, Jess cannot stop thinking about this woman and the strange events. She begins sleuthing and researching the two missing boys and the girl in the photo. What does the past have to do with Annie? Is this her real name, and who is the dead man brutally murdered in the kitchen? Who is the mysterious HIM?

Alternating between POVs: Jess and Him, readers will be glued to the pages to try and solve this mystery—the woman, the dead man, its connection with Memento Mori, which she saw on the wall and a necklace, and the mystery man, HIM.

You MUST read to discover all the answers to this puzzle and how Jess became a detective.

I LOVED this short book and am obsessed with this Jess Lambert series. It has mystery, trauma, emotion, suspense, intrigue, women sleuths, a cop procedural, psychological thriller, crime thriller, and a flawed and highly relatable protagonist. I could have read an entire book from this novella, and now I hope for a prequel to the prequel and cannot wait for #3, What Lies in Darkness.

I highly recommend reading #1, THESE STILL BLACK WATERS, (view Interview link below), the novella #.5, THE STRANGER IN BLACK LAKE, and all of Christina's books.

I have been a massive fan of the author since her debut, and with each subsequent book, she keeps getting better and better. A master of suspense, The Detective Jess Lambert series is first-class and a favorite.

Get these three books on your TBR list now!

UPCOMING: #AuthorElevatorSeries Q&A (16 July) with WHAT LIES IN DARKNESS.

Thanks to the author, publisher, and NetGalley for an ARC for an honest opinion.

@JudithDCollins | #JDCMustReadBooks

My Rating: 5 Stars

Pub Date: Mar 19, 2024

Christina's Books




Interviews with Christina McDonald







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