Tor’s Lake

Jennifer Mason

Publisher: Archway Pages: 369 Price: (paperback) $22.99 ISBN: 9781480817562 Reviewed: November, 2017 Author Website: Visit »

Jennifer Mason’s Tor’s Lake is a neo-noir mystery novel with a postmodern aesthetic.

Elizabeth Cromwell, a San Francisco-based dominatrix, is approached by an eccentric named Geoffrey Dilworth with a strange request: to help him procure an apology from another dominatrix, Prescott, who previously embarrassed him. Elizabeth distances herself from Dilworth, but discovers he has left her a valuable gift shortly before mysteriously disappearing. Elizabeth’s life is further disrupted when she, along with a woman coincidentally named Prescott, survive an explosion—setting her on a mission to discover the connection between these seemingly unrelated events.

Elizabeth is a witty narrator, and Mason crafts some memorable passages. About her idealistic assistant, she observes: “Lili was a watery-eyed belonger to many do-gooder organizations, an international pain alleviator.” Unfortunately, Mason’s language can also be overwrought, obscuring more than it illuminates: “I was twenty-two — back when we’d put a few years on our teens, suspended belief and disbelief in grown-up answers, and come through making a living, qualified to overstate the case for poetry.”

The plot of Tor’s Lake is disjointed. Throughlines exist, such as the MacGuffin of what Tor’s Lake refers to, with which Elizabeth is inexplicably obsessed. First, Dilworth tells Elizabeth he’s staying at Tor’s Lake hotel, but she later learns there’s no such place. Then, the name “Tor’s Lake” is discovered inscribed on the side of a train car in a photograph; later it’s rumored (inaccurately) to be referenced in an obscure academic thesis. (Incidentally, at one point Elizabeth’s narration flows into more than 30 pages of an essay on F. Scott Fitzgerald that may or may not be intended to represent that thesis, but which distracts from, rather than advancing, the story.)

Tor’s Lake is a challenging read in both its strengths and weaknesses. Mason’s dense paragraphs of carefully sculpted sentences can be rewarding to unpack, but underneath the language, the central mystery fails to captivate, and the streamofconsciousness narration often creates more confusion than clarity.

Also available in hardcover and ebook.

Author's Current Residence
Santa Barbara, California
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