Trace of Evil (Natalie Lockhart #1) by Alice Blanchard


“Natalie Lockhart is a rookie detective in Burning Lake, New York, an isolated town known for its dark past. Tasked with uncovering the whereabouts of nine missing transients who have disappeared over the years, Natalie wrestles with the town’s troubled history – and the scars left by her sister’s unsolved murder years ago.

Then Daisy Buckner, a beloved schoolteacher, is found dead on her kitchen floor, and a suspect immediately comes to mind. But it’s not that simple. The suspect is in a coma, collapsed only hours after the teacher’s death, and it turns out Daisy had secrets of her own. Natalie knows there is more to the case, but as the investigation deepens, even she cannot predict the far-reaching consequences – for the victim, for the missing of Burning Lake, and for herself.”

-Synopsis from Goodreads


Cover of Trace of Evil by Alice Blanchard
Cove image from Goodreads

A lot of people have recommended this book to me, both here and on Instagram. I was excited to finally read it because I’ve only heard good things. I will start by saying it was promising, and there was a lot that I liked right off the bat. However, that changed about halfway through the book.

*spoilers ahead*

The setting of this book played a huge role in the story. Burning Lake, New York, while fictional, seemed very realistic. It’s a town with New England vibes. Think: woods, fog, rain, and a history linked to witchcraft, similar to what happened in Salem, MA. I was on board with all of this (even though I tend to not care for fictional retellings of the Salem witch trials).

I liked Natalie right away. She’s the only female detective at the Burning Lake Police Department, she’s smart and good at her job, etc. We learn about her past throughout the book in bits and pieces. More often than not, those snippets occur in between dialogue making it hard to follow the conversation, hard to find the connection between the memory and the conversation (more like, the why of it) and very easy for your mind to wander while reading. The repetition honestly had me zoning out a lot while reading.

Around 150 pages in, this book slowed down considerably. I almost didn’t finish it because of how slow it got. For example, I liked the setting playing a role in the story but I don’t need multiple paragraphs in each chapter to describe just how exactly those woods looked as Natalie drove past. Once you tell me the woods are alternately pretty and spooky, I get it. I don’t need it to be reinforced.

I also questioned whether we were really getting anything from the interviews Natalie did with all the people who knew the murder victim. Not much of significance was revealed in each, and there were just so many uninteresting conversations taking place. I wished that the focus had been on one or two suspects. I didn’t need to see how much due-diligence Natalie was putting into “being stubborn” and trying to cover all her bases. It made for a lot of scenes that didn’t seem to go anywhere for me.

After finishing the book all I could think was that this was three, possibly more, books in one. Not in a good way. We have the Natalie as a newbie detective angle, the high school kids as suspects of a serious crime angle, the disturbing past between Natalie’s siblings and their friends, the crow-dude serial killer, the murdered teacher, and the town itself being ridden by amateur witchcraft and petty crime.

Each of those plotlines could have formed its own book in this series. I would have eaten them up! But when they’re mashed together over the course of just a week, two at the most (which is what I believe the timeline was for this story), and each mini-plot has multiple suspects and witnesses in connection, it was hard to decipher which was the real plot.

Will I read the subsequent Natalie Lockhart books? I don’t think so, and I feel bad for saying that. The reason would just be because this book was way too slow. If you have read this series and can chime in as to whether or not it picks up, please do! It may not sound like it from this post, but I really liked Natalie and this story overall and would love to know that the series picks up eventually.

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