Cover of Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis. A blurry photo of a white girl in front of a lake.

About the Book

Title: Harrow Lake
Published: 2020

Cover Story: Blurry Teen Face
Drinking Buddy: Why Not?
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (Intense scenes of horror, language, alcohol use)
Talky Talk: Direct to Video
Bonus Factor: Creepy Town
Bromance Status: Fellow Fan

Cover Story: Blurry Teen Face

Nice cover for a horror novel; a real The Ring vibe to it. I feel sorry for the model who can’t brag about this.

The Deal:

Lola Nix is the daughter of famed horror director Nolan Nix. A controlling and obsessive man, Lola is desperate to live life out from under this thumb. Her wish comes horribly true when she returns home one night to find her father stabbed in his office. As her father recovers, Lola is sent off to live with her grandmother, whom she has never met, at Harrow Lake. This is the location where her father filmed Nightjar, his most iconic movie. The movie her mother starred in before she vanished. The town is now bringing in tourist bucks because of the film’s cult following. But there’s something else in this town. The legend of Mister Jitters, Harrow Lake’s own boogeyman. Of course, all of this is BS.

Until something starts knocking at Lola’s window at night. Until her old imaginary friend pays a visit. Until she starts realizing maybe her mother didn’t really abandon her family. But some secrets are meant to stay buried…just like the old town of Harrow Lake that was buried in that landslide.

Drinking Buddy: Why Not?

Two pints of beer cheersing

Lola was your typical horror story heroine: she knows she’s in trouble, she does everything she can to survive, and maybe catches the eye of Carter, the cute local boy. But I felt her character was underdeveloped. We open with Lola committing minor acts of theft, stealing little things like lipsticks from strangers, and then burying them. She’ll also write down secrets and hide them, something she learned from her mother. But these character traits were very underused in my opinion, and never really explored. Also, I kept wanting to shout advice to her. When her suitcase mysteriously vanishes with her phone charger, she never tries to locate a replacement. When her father’s assistant, Larry, is vague about her father’s condition, she never tries to contact the hospital’s switchboard to connect to his room or the nurses’ station. When her childhood imaginary friend, a ventriloquist’s doll that her father threw out, suddenly shows up, she’s not especially terrified by these turns of events. She’s scared, yes, but eventually just goes with it.

Also, she idolizes her father who never told her her maternal grandmother was alive, refuses to let her get a driver’s license, a cell phone, or a haircut, and keeps her isolated socially. Not cool.

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (Intense scenes of horror, language, alcohol use)

So back during the prohibition era, an unpopular bootlegger lived on the outskirts of Harrow Lake. During some torrential rains, a landslide, which uncovered the graves in the churchyard, buried the man in the abandoned caves below town. The townsfolk could hear him crying for help for days, but ignored him, out of fear of causing another collapse. He survived by eating the flesh of the more recent dead. By the time he managed to escape, he’d developed a taste for the most forbidden of foods, and now roams the countryside as Mister Jitters, looking for his next meal.

Cool story, huh? No wonder Lola’s father made a horror movie here, which ended with the heroine, played by Lola’s mother, being torn apart by an angry mob. And now Lola has returned. Her creepy grandmother forces her to dress in her mother’s clothes. Strange things appear outside the her window at night. Secret passages. Messages from the past. A haunted carnival.

It’s all good.

Talky Talk: Direct to Video

It had all the elements, including the shocking twist ending, but in the end, it was just another girl running through the woods with a nameless foe on her trail. The book was well written, yet there was nothing we hadn’t seen in a thousand late night movies. But some of us really enjoy that sort of thing.

Bonus Factor: Creepy Town

Black and white photo of an abandoned house

Harrow Lake, in addition to its perfect name, kind of reminded me of a point and click video game:

Level one: Isolated house, with hidden rooms and creepy, hand-carved bugs

Level two: Town museum

Level three: The woods

Level four: The abandoned church/cemetery

Level five: The haunted amusement park

Level six: The tunnels

Level seven: The final confrontation

Bromance Status: Fellow Fan

It was nice sharing our love for horror. I may not revisit this book, but we’ll always have the memories. Even the gaslighting ones.

Literary Matchmaking

Scream All Night

For another book about the child of a horror movie director, read Scream All Night, by Derek Milman.


Feral, by Holly Schindler, deals with another doubt with a frightening past.

The May Queen Murders

As does Sarah Jude’s The May Queen Murders.

FTC full disclosure: I received neither money nor booze for writing this review.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.