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  • Writer's pictureJudith D Collins

These Still Black Waters

Narrators: Angela Dawe, Erin Bennett,

Ellen Quay

Brilliance Audio

Series: Jess Lambert Thriller #1

ISBN: 978-1662511615

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer

Publication Date: 10/01/2023

Format: Other

My Rating: 5 Stars + (ARC)

Two women struggle toward a dark truth as a killer avenges the sins of the past in a twisting novel of suspense by the USA Today bestselling author of Do No Harm, Behind Every Lie, and The Night Olivia Fell.

Some secrets are best left buried…

After a violent home invasion, Neve Maguire returns with her daughter to Black Lake, her childhood summer home, hoping for a fresh start. But when the body of a woman is found floating among the reeds in the lake behind her house, she fears she has made a horrible mistake.

But others are worth killing for.

Neve is hiding secrets, though. Detective Jess Lambert can tell. Recently back after her own personal tragedy, Jess knows what it’s like to live with skeletons in your closet, and she’s sure Neve has a few of her own.

When another woman’s body is found, Jess and Neve are forced to confront a horrible truth. Because one thing is clear: the darkness of the past is waiting. And the secrets of Black Lake are only just beginning to surface.

About the Author

Christina McDonald is the USA Today bestselling author of Do No Harm, Behind Every Lie, and The Night Olivia Fell, which has been optioned for television by a major Hollywood studio.

Originally from Seattle, Washington, she now lives in London, England, with her husband, her two sons, and their dog, Tango. For more information, visit

Christina's Novels:

Do No Harm (2021)

Connect with Christina

Q&A Elevator Ride with

bestselling author

Christina McDonald


Exceptional Authors. Standout Books. Elevator Talk.


Behind The Book

Welcome to October 2023 #AuthorElevatorSeries —where we go behind the scenes of the book and the author. We are super excited to have back with us for the fourth time a personal favorite — the bestselling author Christina McDonald with her riveting kick-off-new-series Detective Jess Lambert Thriller #1—the highly anticipated thriller and fourth novel—THESE STILL BLACK WATERS.

Welcome back, Christina!

Christina, congrats on your fourth novel, your new publisher, and your new series! WOW, a lot of exciting news to discuss.

CHRISTINA: Thank you so much for having me!

Q. NEW SERIES: Tell us a little about your fascinating new main character, Detective Jess Lambert and how you came to create her?

CHRISTINA: Jess was an interesting character to create, and really involved me digging into trauma and loss. She’s damaged, but so strong, and also kind of a badass.

Initially, Jess was a secondary character. I sat down to write Neve’s story, but as I wrote, I started wanting to know the investigation that was happening as well. So I wrote Jess’s character into the story. But the story was still very much Neve’s.

When I went out on submission, my new editor asked how I’d feel about making the story a series, and making Jess more prominent, carrying on into a second book. I loved it, obviously! So I sat down to really re-write Jess, her entire back story, her POV (I changed from 3rd to 1st person), her trauma, her loss, and where she was at the start of These Still Black Waters. And that’s how we got Jess, the Jess you read about now.

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

CHRISTINA: The arrival of Neve Maguire after a brutal home invasion sets off a series of chilling murders that has Jess Lambert, a detective haunted by her own past, determined to unravel the truth behind how they’re linked.

Q. DESCRIBE THESE STILL BLACK WATERS in three words or less.

CHRISTINA: Haunting. Atmospheric. Surprising.

Q. THE KILLER: The chilling voice of the killer is cleverly interspersed between Neve and Jess POV, keeping the reader on the edge of their seat, flipping the pages to determine the identity (whodunit and whydunit). How much fun was it creating this creepy character set out for REVENGE?

CHRISTINA: Creating the killer’s chapters was actually incredibly fun. I really had to dig deep and think about things in a way that was totally different for me. I’ve never written the antagonist’s POV, and it was kind of fun to think so dark, but also I felt so much empathy for the killer and why they did the things they did.

Q. WRITING: Do you have a favorite chapter or scene in the novel you enjoyed writing the most?

CHRISTINA: My favorite scenes in These Still Black Waters are chapter 1, from the antagonist’s POV, which I loved writing so much because it’s so, so dark, and chapter 53, which is Neve’s POV. I can’t say why I love that one so much without giving it away, but it gave me all the feels when I wrote it. For me, writing is about emotion, it’s about connection – with the characters, with my reader, with myself – and that chapter really hit all three.

Q. TAKEAWAY: What important message, theme, or takeaway would you like readers to be left with when reading your book?

CHRISTINA: The main theme in These Still Black Waters is that we are all more than the worst things we’ve done. It’s about forgiveness and moving into a better future.

Q. DID YOU KNOW? What was the idea for writing this book?

CHRISTINA: I wrote this book after a friend of mine suffered a horrifying home invasion. She was putting her children to bed and masked men with knives burst into her home. I found this so terrifying, I often found myself thinking about it, what I would do in that situation.

Then, during the pandemic, when everything felt so st range and upside down, I started writing about it. TSBW speaks to the rupture that tragedy brings, about our endless quest to put our lives back together again after the worst has happened. How resilient we humans are. The book is about grief, but it’s also about forgiveness, about enduring, carrying on in the face of tragedy.

Q. UPCOMING: Can you share what you are currently working on or what is next in ten words or less (or more)? What Lies in Darkness (Jess Lambert #2) August 2024.

CHRISTINA: I’m working on the second book in the Jess Lambert series, which is titled What Lies In Darkness. Jess investigates the baffling case of 17-year-old Alice Harper, who regained consciousness after a car accident only to discover her entire family had disappeared.

Readers, keep reading (below) for more up close and personal with Christina!

Behind The Author

BIRTH STATE? or (Country)

Washington State


London, UK


I use Benefit They’re Real mascara for my lashes and it’s my favorite (and often only!) makeup.


Both! I have one of each!


Reading, of course, but aside from that, walking my dog and lifting weights.


I listen to hard core trance/dance when I’m writing.


Jennifer Lawrence. She seems fun.


Cancun; swimming in the cenotes was pure heaven.


My favorite book is always the one I’m working on right now, which is the second in the Jess Lambert series (the sequel to These Still Black Waters).


My sons, my husband, trying to make them proud.


You are good enough. Most kids fall into the peer pressure trap because they’re afraid they aren’t good enough, but if you learn you’re good enough, you’ll be pre-approved. Realize that the tools for happiness aren’t outside you, but inside. It’s the most powerful gift you’ll give yourself. Don’t be afraid of new things and don’t be afraid to fail. Mistakes get you one step closer to your goal. Be confident. Learn from your teachers, learn from your peers, learn from everyone. Knowledge is power. Read. Read some more. Be Zen. And FFS, call your mother.


David Attenborough. Can you imagine?! ‘The author, Christina McDonald, is here, in the wild, stepping carefully around those publishing pitfalls…’ lol


Swings. I don’t know why. That unpredictable creak, creak as it goes up, then down. *shiver*


I loved my 20s. Things became less fun once I had kids at 29. (Don’t get me wrong, I love them, but those first years aren’t unicorns and rainbows!)


Getting a book published is hard, but staying published is even harder. It takes determination, fortitude, and the ability to keep working, to keep writing, even if you don’t think you’ll get paid for it, even in the face of rejection, even with self-doubt. I guess it takes a kind of crazy, magical stubbornness.


Dr. Emma Sweeney, my main character doctor in Do No Harm who started selling opioids in order to raise enough money to pay for her son’s lifesaving leukemia treatments.


I have chapstick in every location, with me at all times. Bedside table, desk, purse, bathroom, living room, car, etc. I really hate dry lips.


I do Les Mills’ Body Pump 3-4 times a week.


Honestly? To be a New York Times bestselling author.


I run a book club where every month I choose a book, then offer readers a special sneak peek at the first chapter and a chance to win a signed book as a giveaway. It’s a fun way to learn about amazing new books coming out, plus a great opportunity to win books!

You can join Christina’s Book Club here:

Thank you Christina, for spending time with us today!


*GOODREADS Readers’ Most Anticipated Fall Mysteries & Thrillers

*SHE READS Most Anticipated Thrillers, Mysteries and Suspense of Summer 2023

*NETGALLEY Most Anticipated Thrillers of 2023


*GOODREADS Summer’s Biggest Mysteries

“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

“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

From the Publisher

Even as a kid, I was afraid of water. I know how to swim; at one point, I was even Red Cross certified. But there’s something about dark and seemingly bottomless waters that makes my skin prickle and my limbs twitch. And it’s exactly why I couldn’t turn away from this book.

Returning to the lakeside home where she spent summers as a child, Neve Maguire and her daughter are seeking quiet after a terrifying home invasion. But quiet never comes: a woman’s body is found in the lake shortly after they arrive.

Detective Jess Lambert doesn’t like the lake or the roads that run near it. She used to hate secrets, but now she has her own to protect, even as she tries to uncover Neve’s.

With a sharp, flawed detective reminiscent of Mare of Easttown and the deep, resonant emotions of The Killing, Christina McDonald’s These Still Black Waters evokes that same feeling I get when I stare at water: the creepy, pit-of-my-stomach anticipation. The eyes-half-closed dread. The complete inability to stop reading before I know just how it ends. These Still Black Waters is a series start that has me eager to return to those cold and murky waters, even as they chill me to my bones.

—Jessica Tribble Wells, Editor

My Review

Master storyteller, and bestselling author (a favorite), Christina McDonald returns following Do No Harm (2021), Behind Every Lie (2020), and The Night Olivia Fell (2019)—all five stars— with the introduction of her riveting new knock-out series, Detective Jess Lambert thriller #1, THESE STILL BLACK WATERS.

Emotionally complex, two mothers (detective and victim) struggle with past trauma and dark secrets while a mysterious killer is out for revenge in a race against time in this enthralling twisty whodunit new series with a sympathetic, highly relatable MC you will root for!

"Lyrical, immersive, hauntingly beautiful, atmospheric, and suspenseful with a sprinkling of supernatural. Top Books of 2023! You will anxiously await the next in this riveting Jess Lambert series." (Aug 2024) I loved THESE STILL BLACK WATERS!

There is a Boston home invasion (and gunshot wound) at a picture-perfect address of Neve Maguire (veterinarian, wife of successful Eli-husband, and mother of a teen daughter, Ash (Ashley Rose).

Suffering from trauma, guilt, and post-traumatic stress, Neve decides to take Ash away from the home setting to offer protection for her and her daughter, get her therapy, and move to the small lakeside community in Black Waters with a lake for the summer: A charming town (now a dead tourist town after the pandemic) and hiking trails. She will take a job as a local vet helping with larger farm animals. She leaves her husband and pets in the family home, thinking it will benefit them.

The large Victorian home is her mother's home (handed down from her grandmother), where Neve spent many summers. Her mother is now is suffering from Alzheimer's and in a memory care unit facility. It has been rented out as a vacation rental.

However, there is a dark past at the mysterious Dullahan House, and Neve will not enter the basement. A summer long ago with three best friends: Neve, Sandra, and Bee (boyfriend, Zach). What happened that night long ago? Things happened that can never be taken back. There are no do-overs. No one knows what happened, but do they? Nothing is as it appears.

Someone knows and is out to get REVENGE, one by one.

The day after they move in, there is a murder next door. The woman who owned the property management company for her mother's house. No wonder she did not show up, so they used the code to get in. The deceased is Bailey Nelson. Neve knows her but denies it when asked. It was her summertime best friend. She was manipulative and evil.

Did she make a mistake bringing her daughter her? How can they be safe here or at home?

Meet Detective Jess Lambert— assigned to the case. (husband NY criminal defense attorney, Mac, now separated after the accident). Jess has long dark hair, rides a motorcycle, and limps, walks with a cane. She experienced significant trauma in a car accident after drinking and driving, and her eight-year-old daughter Isla was killed.

She is a functional alcoholic to numb the physical and mental pain, the demons that haunt her daily; she is tortured—the guilt, regrets, remorse, the poor choices she made that fatal night, and grief she experiences daily from the death of her beautiful daughter. She cannot forgive herself.

Her boss is giving her a shot at this case, and she needs the distraction to keep her mind off her past as she goes through the motions with her partner Will. However, Will is concerned about her drinking, and she is seeing her daughter and talking to her. Is she losing it?

The investigation starts with the usual suspects of the husband and the neighbors, and then, when the body is examined, a strange message is carved into the victim's tongue. (M1237) There are also clues of photos of the victim and two other girls with friendship bracelets.

Is Neve a victim or murderer? Prey or hunter?

The past will not stay buried, and then a second woman is found dead with the same message (tongue), and Neve and Jess have more in common than they know. Jess feels like she is losing it, and her boss removes her from the case for desk duty, but she is so close —determined to save one girl since she could not bring back her own. The secrets of Black Waters are slowly unraveled!

In life, there are Debtors and Collectors. The people who want others to owe them. They will keep your secrets and do your dirty deeds, but only so you will owe them. They will own you. Bee was a collector. Manipulative, bold, powerful.

THESE STILL BLACK WATERS is told from alternating POVs, Neve (mother) and Jess (mother/detective) and the creepy, mysterious unknown killer’s chilling voice (in italics). The two women have a fierce love for their daughters and are haunted by the past.

The chilling voice of the killer is cleverly interspersed between Neve and Jess's POV, keeping the reader on the edge of their seat, flipping the pages to determine the identity (whodunit and whydunit). You will be DYING to solve the mystery of the killer! I guessed wrong.

A big theme throughout the novel is CHOICES. Choices have consequences. "That's all life was: a series of choices. That is what it all came down to in the end. It didn't just happen. We made our choices. The good. The bad. The mundane. Free will. We made choices every day, both knowingly and unknowingly...Some choices we regret. Some we are proud of. Losses. Gains, Successes. Failures. Friends. Enemies. We have the power of choice. The only inescapable thing is the inevitability of choice. In other words, the past may be dead, but it is our choice if we bury it."

WOW! The author's writing is lyrical and hauntingly beautiful, with vivid descriptions, thought-provoking messages, clever plot twists, and well-developed characters. I bookmarked many pages. If you have read Christina's previous books, you know you are in for a rare treat! Trust me, set aside the time before you start reading, as it is unputdownable! I could not sleep and got up and had to finish it!

The author is a pro at writing and weaving complex mother-daughter relationships (her signature), and she dazzles in THESE STILL BLACK WATERS. Her best yet!

A killer out for revenge and two mothers desperately trying to protect their daughters—dark past secrets, demons, addiction, guilt, grief, regrets, poor choices, and remorse on the way to hope forgiveness and redemption. Gripping and thought-provoking, an ideal pick for book clubs and further discussions.

GENRES: From literary, psychological suspense, women's domestic, coming of age, detective, cop procedural, family drama, mother/daughter, sleuthing, serial killer, crime thriller, and supernatural, among others.

TOPICS: Choices, obsession, revenge, religion, grief, guilt, abuse, trauma, PTSD, divorce, marriage, motherhood, mothers/daughter, remorse, manipulation, psychological, sleepwalking, jealousy, privilege/class, addiction, alcoholism, and more.

This will be a top thriller of 2023. McDonald's fans will devour as well as new fans. For fans of Lisa Gardner, Karin Slaughter, Heather Gudenkauf, Kimberly Belle, B.A. Paris and Mary Kubica.

INTERVIEW: Stay tuned for my #AuthorElevatorSeries Q&A with Christina on pub day, where we go behind the scenes of THESE STILL BLACK WATERS and this mega-talented author.

Thanks to the author and Thomas & Mercer for a gifted ARC for an honest review.

@JudithDCollins | #JDCMustReadBooks

Pub Date: Oct 1, 2023

My Rating: 5 Stars ++

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