In this soap opera set in the small Irish village of Lough Crass, everyone seems to know young Kit Mc-Mahon's business: the neighbors are in on her rows with best friend Clio, the troubles of her stuttering younger brother Emmet and the oddly distant marriage of her parents. Then comes the night when Helen, her beautiful, brooding mother, vanishes, the family's boat is found overturned on Glass Lake and Kit comes across a sealed letter on her father's pillow. As the townsfolk whisper of suicide, 12-year-old Kit, determined that her mother be buried in consecrated earth, tosses the letter into the fire.
As the years pass, Kit remains haunted by her secret. Meantime, Helen, who has fled to London with a paramour from her past, aches for the children she has left behind. Eventually the women meet, spill out their hearts and reconcile. Fate, though, will not spare them the wages of their rash acts, and anguish lies ahead.
Binchy (The Copper Beech, Circle of Friends) is in firm command of her craft—the writing solid, the details telling, the characters clearly drawn if stereotypical. Hers is a melodramatic world where women grow strong and wise from their tribulations (unwanted pregnancy, deceit, infidelity) and where omens (like the drowning of a blind kitten) forebode the tragedy before a promising dawn. At 584 pages, Lake is comfort food—not great, but satisfying in its blandness and bulk—and just the kind of fare Binchy fans crave. (Delacorte, $23.95)