Lost Lake: A Detective Gemma Monroe Mystery

Lost Lake: A Detective Gemma Monroe Mystery

by Emily Littlejohn


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An enthralling, atmospheric new novel from Emily Littlejohn, the author of acclaimed debut Inherit the Bones, featuring Colorado police officer Gemma Monroe.

"Recommend to fans of Louise Penny's Inspector Gamache novels." Booklist

On a bright Saturday in early spring, Detective Gemma Monroe responds to a missing person call at Lost Lake, near the small town of Cedar Valley, Colorado. With its sapphire waters and abundance of wildflowers, the lake is a popular camping destination in the summer. But for now, ice still grips the lake and snow buries the flowers.

When Gemma arrives at the shore, she meets three friends who have been camping there: the fourth of their group, Sari Chesney, has disappeared in the night without a trace. Sari is an assistant curator at the local museum, which is set to host a gala that night—a project she’s worked on for months and would never intentionally miss. As Gemma begins to understand the complex dynamics of the supposedly close-knit friendship group, she realizes that more than one person is lying to her—and that the beautiful, still waters of Lost Lake may hide more terrible secrets . . .

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250178305
Publisher: St. Martin''s Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/06/2018
Series: Detective Gemma Monroe Novels , #3
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 374,324
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

EMILY LITTLEJOHN was born and raised in southern California. A former librarian, she now spends her time writing, raising a family, and working in city government in the Denver metro area. Inherit the Bones was her acclaimed debut novel, followed by A Season to Lie, and Lost Lake.

Read an Excerpt


I stood at the edge of Lost Lake and raised a hand to my forehead to shield my eyes from the bright sun. Accustomed to the gloomy overcast skies of March and April, I'd left my sunglasses at home. But this, the second Saturday in May, was one of those warm spring days when the temperature edged pasty sixty degrees and the sky was blue enough to make the gray winter begin to fade from memory.

My head hurt from a long night of broken sleep with my six-month-old teething daughter and one too many glasses of pinot noir over dinner with my fiancé, Brody Sutherland. I closed my eyes against the glare and instead let the language of the lake wash over me. The crack of the melting ice that lined the water's edge. The young aspen leaves, whispering to one another over the sound of the gentle breeze. The splash of water as an eagle dipped down and plucked an unsuspecting fish from the middle of the lake, the bird's movements as deliberate as a stealth bomber.

It should have felt peaceful, but there was a roughness to the pastoral scene, like a pencil sketch that has been handled by greasy fingers, the edges smudged.

By June, the area would be flush with hikers and fishermen. Both groups would come hungry: the hikers for the chance to see the annual wildflower bloom of lapis and indigo lupines, sprawling up the mountain on the far side of the lake; and the fishermen for the plump trout and bass.

But this early in the season?

The few people hardy enough to try to reach the lake would trek two miles uphill, traversing melting snow and muddy, soggy soil.

There was the ever-present threat of bears, too, just waking from their long winter slumber. Bears that were hungry.

Opening my eyes, I turned from the lake and stared back at the small group huddled around the unlit fire pit.

Why had they come here, to Lost Lake?

There were dozens of camping spots scattered throughout the lower valley, any one of them more accessible than this place. The water was frigid, the wildflowers still in hibernation. It was pleasant now, nearly midday, but without the sun, temperatures would plummet. The ground would have made a cold bed last night.

Yet the group had chosen to come here. And now one of them was missing.

Sari Chesney.

Lost, at Lost Lake.

The ice cracked again. It made an eerie, otherworldly sound, and I left the lake's edge and trudged back to the group, careful to avoid the muddy collage of footprints that seemed to lead both somewhere and nowhere.

They stared at me, the two men and one woman.

The woman spoke first. "I'm very worried that something has happened to her."

Her name was Allison Chang but she preferred to be called Ally. She had told me she was Sari's best friend.

"Has Sari ever done anything like this before? Gone off without leaving word?"

"No, never. Sari's very responsible," Ally said. "She knows we would worry."

Mac Stephens added, "I agree with Ally. I have a bad feeling about this, Detective Monroe."

"Please, call me Gemma."

Mac was Sari's boyfriend, a big bear of a man with messy red hair. He was the only one of the group that I'd seen before; he was a nurse at the hospital in town and had given my daughter, Grace, her first set of shots. He didn't remember me, though; or if he did, he didn't say anything.

"I think someone has taken her," Mac continued. "This place is remote as hell. Anyone could have snuck up on us and kidnapped her."

"Kidnappings are rare, especially in a place like this, with you three right here." I gestured back to the lake. "I hate to ask the obvious, but is there any chance she went for a swim?"

Mac and Ally shook their heads vigorously.

"Sari nearly drowned as a child in a boating accident. She hates the water. She only agreed to come because Mac bullied her into it," Ally said with a troubled glance toward Mac.

He met Ally's glare with one of his own. "That's not true, Ally, and you know it. Yes, Sari hates the water, but she loves hiking and camping. She was happy to come."

I glanced at the second man. Aside from giving me his name — Jake Stephens, Mac's cousin — he'd remained silent, watching the conversation unfold.

"Look, there's no evidence to indicate a crime has occurred. Sari's an adult, and her keys, driver's license, and cell phone are all missing. That's a good sign. Everything points to the likelihood that she left the campsite of her own accord," I said, reflecting on the handful of missing person cases I'd worked in my six years with the Cedar Valley Police Department. In each case but one, the individual had turned up within a day. The one person who never returned was later tracked to a commune in Las Vegas.

Ally seemed to have a change of heart and she nodded her head in agreement. Color flared in her cheeks, giving her a sunburnt look. "You know, I bet you're right. Sari can be a little nutty. She's been stressed with work lately. I wonder if she got restless and just up and left in the middle of the night."

"Even though that would mean walking out in the dark, through the big, bad woods?" Jake asked. He stared at Ally, his black hair peeking out from under a blue knit beanie cap. He was in his early twenties, a few years younger than Mac and Ally. His eyes, as dark as his hair, were unreadable behind a pair of thick horn-rimmed eyeglasses.

Ally shrugged. "Maybe. If I was as stressed as she's been, I might do the same."

Another sharp crack of ice drew my attention back to the lake. Once more I squinted against the glare of the sun. A mild spring breeze created gentle waves that should have been soothing. Instead, they beckoned like the hands of a tribe of water sprites, intent on luring us into the lake.

Someone in the group coughed. I turned away from the lake. "You're positive of the timing, that she disappeared in the middle of the night?"

Mac Stephens nodded.

"How can you be so sure?"

"We're sure." Mac scratched at the back of his head. "We went to bed late, close to one in the morning. We'd, uh, had a lot to drink. I got up, maybe about six, to take a leak, and noticed Sari wasn't in the tent. I thought maybe she was going to the bathroom, too. To be honest, I was still drunk at that point. I went back to bed and passed out. When I woke again at nine, she was gone. I mean, she was still gone. So I got the others up and we searched for a while. Finally, Jake hiked out, back to the parking lot to get cell reception. He tried Sari's number first, then when it went to voice mail he called nine-one-one."

I pulled my phone from my pocket and looked at the signal; it was weak, intermittent.

I glanced at Jake. "Did you see anything strange on your hike down?"

Jake had a narrow penknife in one hand and a twig in the other. As he spoke, he took the knife to the wood. Shavings from the twig fell to the ground in a steady stream. "What do you mean, strange?"

I pursed my lips, wondering myself what I meant. "Another hiker, or signs of Sari ... maybe animal prints?"

Jake shook his head. "Nah, there was nothing weird. But then again, I was moving pretty quickly. I took more time on the way back here, though, after I called you guys. I was stopping every couple of feet and calling Sari's name." He cupped his hands round his mouth, to demonstrate. "Sari! Sari!"

Ally flinched at the shouting and said, "Stop it, Jake. Seriously. Stop."

He shrugged. "Sorry."

I turned back to the best friend and the boyfriend. "While Jake hiked down, what were you two doing?"

Mac said, "We poked around in the woods, in case Sari had tripped, maybe fallen, and was unconscious. Then I searched Sari's backpack. At first, it made me happy, seeing that her wallet and phone were gone. Because that's what you'd grab, you know, when you leave your house. But then I got scared. Where could she go? It's two miles back to the parking lot."

He fished in his pocket and pulled out a keychain. "Look, I've still got my keys. My van is in the parking lot — that was the first thing Jake checked. And no matter what Ally says, Sari is not that brave. She'd never hike out in the dark. It's too big a risk with the mountain lions and bears up here."

He turned to the side, gesturing to the woods around the lake, and I noticed a handgun tucked in the back of his pants, sticking out from under his thick wool shirt.

"Do you have a permit for that?"

Mac looked back at me, surprised I'd noticed the gun. He nodded. "Of course. I've got a concealed carry. It's a 9mm. Do you need to see it?"

Only if I find a body with a bullet in it, I thought.

I shook my head. "Not necessary. Just keep it out of my sight. Concealed means concealed. Look, could someone have picked her up at the trailhead?"

None of them had an answer to that.

The thing was, it was odd.

Not suspicious, not yet ... but odd. Though the fire pit was unlit, ashes from the night before still smoldered in the ring. There was a lingering trace of marijuana smoke, lending the campsite an air of seediness.

Again I wondered why they'd come here, to this lost lake in the middle of the forest. Finally, I asked the question. "Why here?"

"You mean why did we come here to camp?" Mac said. "I've been coming to Lost Lake since I was a kid. Never this early in the season, though. I wanted to check it out, you know, see what it was like with a bit of snow and ice still on the ground. Jake's new to town and I thought it would be fun."

"I'd never even heard of this place," Ally said. "I guess they call it Lost Lake for a reason."

"You mentioned that Sari has been stressed at work. What does she do?"

Mac smiled proudly. "She is the assistant curator at the Cedar Valley History Museum."

Ally added, "What she is, is exhausted. Sari's been putting in twelve, thirteen-hour days working on the museum gala. There is no way in hell she'd miss the big event. Plus, her boss is a total witch and will fire her if she doesn't show up tonight. And Sari can't afford to lose her job."

The gala was the kick-off event of a week-long celebration of the sesquicentennial anniversary of Cedar Valley. One hundred and fifty years ago, the town's founding fathers had signed the necessary documents to take Cedar Valley from a mining outpost in the mountains of Colorado to an actual town. The local history museum was hosting the gala, while other organizations in town were hosting the rest of the week's events.

I chewed on the corner of my lip, thinking about a seedy campsite and a frozen lake and a missing woman. A woman who put in a tremendous amount of work to prepare for a party, and then disappeared on the eve of the event. It wasn't adding up. The thought of waiting twenty-four hours to open a missing persons case, per our standard police procedure, made me uneasy.

"Okay. Let's go ahead and get Sari reported as a missing person. I'll need a recent picture of her, a description of the last things she was wearing, and any identifying characteristics like birthmarks, tattoos, that sort of thing."

"Damn it," Mac said. The fear in his eyes intensified. "You just said we shouldn't worry."

"Look, here's the thing. Nine times out of ten, a missing person turns up. Maybe Sari was upset or ill. We're over eight thousand feet up here; perhaps she got altitude sickness and woke up disoriented. Or maybe she met up with someone. The point is, in the end, there's almost always a good explanation. However, you tell me Sari's been working on the gala for months, and that she's a responsible person, and needs her job. So, for her to go missing, today of all days ... I don't think you should worry. But I do want to make sure we're doing our due diligence here."

Mac nodded. "Okay. You're the expert."

A cloud drifted in front of the sun and swallowed the warmth from the day, blocking the light and darkening the landscape. I shivered, then turned around and looked again at Lost Lake, suddenly uneasy having my back to the water.

I watched as, under the dark sky, the lake shifted in color to a murky shade of cobalt ink, and for the first time really noticed the dense woods on the far side of the water. There, a thick grove of Colorado blue spruce trees sprawled along the edge of the lake, a buffer between it and the mountains. As the trees grew up the slope of the mountains, though, they began to thin out. At the tree line, about eleven thousand feet, the spruces were replaced by scrubby alpine brush.

The cloud continued to drift and in another moment, the sun reappeared. Something shiny winked at me across the water from the thick forest of blue spruces. Then I blinked and it was gone.

Another camper? Or a day hiker?

"Did you see that?"

Ally, pulling on a sweatshirt, paused. "See what?"

I blinked again, but the strange light was gone and suddenly I wanted to be anywhere but here. There was a feeling to this lake, a restlessness in the wind, a hardness to the water.

It was a feeling I didn't like.

"Never mind. Just a reflection off the water."

Jake coughed. He rubbed the back of his neck and spoke slowly. "What about the tenth time?"

"Excuse me?"

He removed his eyeglasses and cleaned them on the edge of his sweatshirt. I saw he'd dropped the knife and twig he had been carving. They lay at his feet, next to a plastic water bottle and a half-eaten granola bar. "You said nine times out of ten, the person shows up. What about the tenth time?"

That was a path I didn't want to go down.

"It's too early to think about that. Look, let's get a move on. Pack up your stuff. You can head to the police station to file the official report and give a statement. I'll swing by Sari's apartment and see if she's there."

"Can I come? I have a spare key to her place," Mac said.

"Fine. You can ride with me."

Jake said, "Hey, Mac, I've got stuff to do. Before yesterday, I'd never even met Sari. I've got to find a job soon or my ... I need work."

Mac ran a hand through his thick red hair, frustrated. "This is my girlfriend we're talking about. I've helped you out more times than I can remember, bro."

Jake nodded slowly. "Sure, yeah. You're right. Of course I'll help." He pulled the blue beanie cap farther down over his ears. "I guess we should pack up."

The three of them split up, tending to different tasks around the campsite. Ally and Mac worked on dismantling the tents while twenty feet away Jake lowered plastic bags of trash and food from the high bough of a thick pine tree. Bears were hungry, curious, and agile climbers; tying food and trash up high might not prevent a determined bear from getting to it but at least it would keep the bear away from the tents.

While they worked, I checked the perimeter of the site, attempting to recreate in my mind the events of the previous night: the roaring fire, the bottles of wine passed from hand to cold hand, thetip of a joint glowing in the dark, a hovering red-hot firefly setting a tiny patch of the black night alight.

Maybe it was the warm spring day, or the lake, once more laid out by the sun like a turquoise egg nestled in a basket of blue spruces, guarded by jagged, ancient stone peaks.

Maybe it was my own fatigue, settling in after the tricky hike and a night without much sleep. I'd had too many evenings recently where a glass of red wine with dinner had turned into a second or third in the hours between meal and sleep.

Whatever the reason, I couldn't see what had happened here at Lost Lake.

All I was able to take in were the slushy, muddy ground and the colorful tents, the four backpacks and the unlit, ashy campfire. The three friends, moving around the site with grim determination.

Later, I would think about the ice cracking that morning, and the eagle, fishing for its breakfast, and the three friends who were once four: quiet and subdued, packing up after a night of indulgence. The three of them silent, like ghosts of their former selves, living in a new world where it was possible for a woman, a friend, to vanish overnight.

Later, much later, I would regret every decision I made that morning.


In 1837, Harris Theroux, an intrepid scout for the Continental Fur Company, took a respite from surveying the land to follow a twelve-point buck up the side of a mountain through a dense maze of brush and forest. He lost the buck somewhere in the thicket, but as he crested the top of the mountain and gazed at the beauty before him, his disappointment quickly turned to awe.

He marveled that such a place existed outside his dreams.

The lake was half a square mile of deep blue water, as richly hued as a gemstone, nestled in a narrow valley below rocky peaks that pierced the clouds. A thick forest surrounded the lake, sheltering it. Protecting it.

Hiding it.


Excerpted from "Lost Lake"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Emily Littlejohn.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Lost Lake: A Detective Gemma Monroe Mystery 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Samantha1020 More than 1 year ago
Lost Lake was another really great addition to what has fast become one of my favorite mystery series. There is only three books in this series so far (counting this one) but they have all been at least four star reads for me which really says a lot in my opinion! There is something about the way that this author writes that I just can't get enough of. The descriptions that she includes within the pages of these books is both beautiful and haunting. I found myself re-reading sentences just so that I could savor the writing and this author's way with words. I think describing the way she writes as lyrical would be another good description if I'm being honest. In this book, the descriptions around Lost Lake were both evocative and chilling. I could just picture everything that she was describing so clearly in my head - I was just as creeped out by the lake as Gemma was in the book! I really cannot say enough good things about the writing in these books! I also always enjoy the mysteries in these books and this was no exception. I loved how in this book there were three separate mysteries or cases that Gemma was investigating that all possibly tied together. I spent the entirety of the book trying to figure out if the three cases did actually tie together or if it was all coincidence and completely separate. Honestly I really just lost myself in the pages of this book even as I tried to take my time and savor it. It's a long wait for each book when you love a series so much so I wasn't ready to finish this one right away. I obviously can't say enough good things about this book. I did guess part of the ending but not the why's behind it all which kept up the suspense until the very end. I'm left very excited to continue on with this series! Now begins the wait for book four! Overall, I really enjoyed my time with this book (and this series to be honest) immensely. These books have all been so good that I almost can't put into words how much I have enjoyed them. Just the writing and this author's way with words set this series apart from so many of the mystery series out there. I don't think that you have to read them in order necessarily but I would recommend it. There are pieces from that first book that still carry into this one so I think that you will enjoy these books that much more by reading all of them. I can highly recommend this book and this series as a whole! Each book has been suspenseful and hard to set down. Highly recommended! Bottom Line: A gorgeously written mystery that I savored the entire time! Disclosure: I read this book courtesy of my local library system.
saberle More than 1 year ago
In this, the third Det. Gemma Monroe police procedural, Gemma is dispatched to the eerily disturbing and foreboding Lost Lake. When she arrives, she is told that a young woman named Sari, has gone missing after camping overnight with her three friends. Sari works in a museum, where coincidently or not, her boss is killed, and an artifact stolen. The story is involving and well-written. We get a glimpse of life in a small town, interpersonal relationships, and how a murder is solved. My advice is to buy and read all the Gemma Monroe procedurals. It will be time well spent.
susan568SW More than 1 year ago
A young woman goes missing while camping, an antique diary is stolen from the local museum and a murder starts off the third in the Gemma Monroe series. I haven't read the first two in the series but that didn't detract from my enjoyment of this one. Overall an easy read and a decent mystery.
AmberK1120 More than 1 year ago
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a free copy of the book. Every new book in this series becomes my favorite by the time I finish it, and that's exactly what happened with Lost Lake. The simple fact is this: the Gemma Monroe series is one of my guaranteed comfort reads. As with any series, I know what kinds of things to expect with each book, and it makes me happy when they deliver.
This book reminded me how gorgeous the scenery is in this series. It's set in Colorado, and Littlejohn does an amazing job of creating the world behind the characters. I've never been to Colorado, but Cedar Valley has me convinced it's insanely beautiful.
 One thing that happened with this book that hasn't happened with the previous two: I guessed who the main culprit was as soon as I was introduced to them. Usually this peeves me, because I like to use my reading as an escape, I want everything to be a surprise, and I never intentionally try to solve the mystery. There was enough chaos and excitement throughout the rest of the story to keep me second-guessing myself, so I never felt disappointed when the person was revealed. I had zero ideas for motive, so finally getting all the answers felt like sweet relief.
 Final verdict: I need the next book already. There were a couple storylines in Lost Lake that have me thinking we're going to see some twists in the next installment, and I need answers! Side note: you could read this as a stand-alone if you really wanted to, but I think you'll miss too much of the backstory by not having read the first two.
diane92345 More than 1 year ago
Another engrossing Gemma Monroe mystery begins at Lost Lake in Colorado. Sari is reported missing during a camping trip with her boyfriend Mac, her best friend Ally, and Mac’s cousin, Jake. Detective Gemma Monroe is called to investigate. After questioning the three she concludes, “one of them is lying. Which one, and about what, I don’t know...but I was sure of it.” Sari is an assistant curator at a local museum, where a recent theft has occurred. When another museum staff member is murdered, Gemma must decide if the three incidents are related. Gemma is also facing some personal issues. Recently back to work, she is missing her six-month-old daughter Grace. With a troubling relationship with baby daddy Brody, Gemma still isn’t sure about marriage to him. Her partner, Finn, is grandstanding while presenting her ideas as his own. The police chief asks her to find a leaker within the police force, which makes Gemma feel like a rat. In most police procedurals, there are few clues and fewer suspects. Lost Lake has a plethora of both. However, the clues are right in front of the reader making this tale great for armchair detectives. Lost Lake is the third book in the series but can easily be read as a standalone. It is an enthralling police procedural with compelling characters and a challenging mystery. 4 stars! Thanks to Minotaur Books and NetGalley for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.
TropicalDelusions More than 1 year ago
Lost Lake – Emily Littlejohn I was fortunate to receive this novel from Netgalley.com as an Advance Reader Copy, in exchange for an objective review. Gemma Monroe is a detective with the Cedar Valley PD, whom, after a rough night with her teething infant daughter, is up on Lost Lake, where a young woman, Sari Chesney, has gone missing from her camping group. She, along with partner Finn Nowlin have been tasked with finding the missing woman. Shortly thereafter, Sari’s boss at the Cedar Lake History Museum, Elizabeth, is found murdered inside the museum after an event, and after a famous artifact, a diary, has gone missing. With no obvious leads, and no suspects for either case, Gemma and Finn have their work cut out for them. Meanwhile, there’s a leak at the police department. Someone is funneling information to a local reporter, which is compromising the case. The police chief tasks Gemma with finding and stopping the leak, causing Gemma to take a hard look at the people she works with – even her own partner. As the search continues for Sari, and for Elizabeth Starbucks killer, Gemma begins to suspect that all is not as it seems with Sari’s friends and Mrs. Starbuck’s sons. As they dig deeper, a suspect comes to the forefront, but he quickly sets his sights on Gemma… I very much enjoyed this mystery by Emily Littlejohn, and I hope to see Gemma and Finn continue as a series. Filled with intrigue, personal strife in the detective’s lives, and the perfect mix of’ who-dun-it’, Ms. Littlejohn has herself a winner, and I look forward to reading more!!
paytonpuppy More than 1 year ago
A woman named Sari is missing at Lost Lake and Detective Gemma Monroe is called to the scene. Upon arrival, the three people who were camping with the missing woman state that Sari has disappeared…she seems to have left the camp site during the middle of the night. When Gemma arrives at the museum where Sari works, she finds that a rare artifact, The Rayburn Diary, has gone missing. Are the two cases connected? When a murder occurs at the museum, Gemma now has three cases to investigate as she continues to question the people from the camp site. Gemma must determine how this one missing woman seems to be involved in all three cases. Gemma has a lot on her hands right now as in addition to her work, she is a mother and soon to be married. This is book number three in the series and you could be comfortable in reading this as a standalone as Ms. Littlejohn provides enough back story to the previous books. I have read the previous two books and look forward to book number four. I received a free copy of this book and voluntarily chose to give an honest review. (by paytonpuppy)
MusicInPrint More than 1 year ago
Cedar Valley Colorado - - Beautiful country with plenty of mountain trails and Sparkling Lost Lake. Museum in town boasts having the Rayburn Diary which is an accounting of the early settler days by one of its early pioneers. Question is if it holds a curse for those that have it. Camping and enjoying the natural terrain is shattered when the assistant curator of the museum Sari Chesney and her boss Betty Starbuck meet with tragedy. Detective Gemma Monroe is the mother of Grace and is building a relationship with her fiance Brody. Although these are important to her; solving crime with her partner Finn Nowlin and the rest of the police force takes on its own challenges with a leak in the department. Cast of suspects are investigated and Littlejohn does an excellent job of revealing this mystery. So far this is the best of the Gemma Monroe series in my opinion. Lost Lake could easily stand alone without reading the prior ones in the series. "A copy of this book was provided by St. Martins Press via Netgalley with no requirements for a review. Above review here voices my honest views."