Book Review – Murder at Teal’s Pond by David Bushman and Mark T. Givens

First published, 2022

⭐ ⭐

In 1908, the body of a twenty-year-old woman was found floating in Teal’s Pond, Sand Lake, New York State. With the neighbourhood of various mountain folk and charcoal-makers thrown into disarray, the police inundated with potential suspects and dubious testimony, and speculation running riot in the daily press, the multi-doctor autopsy lacks the conclusive wallop required to definitively point to a likely perp.

Thus, the story of Hazel Drew is relegated to the annals of history and campfire legend until the emergence of the TV series, Twin Peaks: created by a man who heard the story as a child and considered it a source of inspiration for his show.

This novelised true crime investigation into the murder of Hazel Drew is hampered by two things.

Firstly, the writers have researched the area, the key players and possible suspects for five years, and as such, there’s far too much detail for the reader to keep track of. There are too many characters, with too little characterisation to make them memorable. The imagined thought processes of the key players are laborious and speak to many hours of writing, rewriting, tweaking and overthinking; as such, they lack plausibility.

The book starts with the Dramatis Personae, which helps as a quick reference but is intimidating once you realise there are so many characters to be introduced. Then, after the bulk of the story is dealt with, there’s a very brief Here’s What We Think Happened section, and we’re straight into the Author’s Note and Acknowledgements. Thus, the book feels overstuffed and then, quite suddenly, flat as a pancake.

Secondly, and I don’t like myself for saying it, but there’s no getting past the idea that this book is written by two fanboys who want to impress the creator of their favourite show. The authors’ love of Twin Peaks is clear and runs right the way through the story. I suspect it goes some way to explaining the incongruous imagined thoughts of the main characters. These are fans, with an interest in forensic investigation, but I’m not sure they’re really writers.

For a while, I held out hope:
“Who was Hazel Drew? Because almost all of the people who controlled the narrative contemporaneously – chiefly investigators and reporters – were men, the story was filtered through the male gaze, and Hazel – like Laura Palmer and her antecedent, the eponymous protagonist of the 1944 Otto Preminger film noir Laura – became a projection on a screen, absorbing whatever qualities or shortcomings these unreliable narrators assigned to her: woman as defined by male obsession.”
6% in, Introduction, Murder At Teal’s Pond by David Bushman and Mark T. Givens

And okay, it’s a run-on sentence, but it gave me hope that these authors wouldn’t give a pantomime facsimile of a lead female character. Unfortunately, as Hazel is imagined, walking fearlessly through the woods at night, near the pond where she’d be found a few days later…

“She wipes at her brow with her sleeve. Her hair has dampened and matted in the heat. How many men had complimented her on her radiant blonde hair and glittering blue eyes.
“The young woman chuckles to herself. ‘If they could see me now.’”
6% in, Chapter One, Murder At Teal’s Pond by David Bushman and Mark T. Givens

Dang it. I don’t care if it’s 1908 and Hazel is somewhere she knows. Women have never walked in so cavalier a fashion. No woman goes anywhere alone at night, her shoes caked in mud, with no torch, keys between her fingers or weapon of any kind, without thinking that an attack is imminent. And I’m sorry, fellas, but even if she does feel impossibly safe and undaunted, she doesn’t devote all her thoughts to what various faceless men think of her.

I’m sure inadvertently, but the authors have retained the female victim as the film noir femme, and removed any real depth from her thoughts, actions and murder.

Exhaustive and exhausting.