A TV documentary crew explores murky waters in search of legendary lake monster Cressie, only to dredge up a body instead.
Laura Reagan, host of the cryptozoological documentary series Creature X, and her team are in Newfoundland shooting an episode about Cressie, a legendary giant eel. Things don’t start off great: scientific evidence is scarce, stories keep changing, and the locals are throwing a wrench into the production. But what began as a simple TV shoot takes a drastic turn when the crew pulls a body from the depths of Lake Crescent.
For Laura, unravelling the cold case means unearthing long-buried secrets about the most prominent citizens of the remote town of Robert’s Arm. With time running out, she and her team must put the pieces together and expose the killer before more blood is spilled.
About the author
J.J. Dupuis writes fiction, poetry, and satire. He is the author of Roanoke Ridge and Lake Crescent, the first two books in the Creature X Mystery series. His work has been published in magazines and journals such as Valve, Foliate Oak, Spadina Literary Review, and University of Toronto Magazine. J.J. is the founding editor of the Quarantine Review, a literary journal born out of self-isolation. He lives and works in East York, Toronto, and is an avid outdoorsman and martial artist.
Excerpt: Lake Crescent: A Creature X Mystery (by (author) J.J. Dupuis)
Dad’s interest in myths, monsters, and cryptozoology had started with episodes of In Search of … when he was a boy growing up in Wyoming in the 1970s. Each week brought a new mysterious phenomenon to explore: Could plants respond to people’s thoughts? Did ancient Phoenicians visit New Hampshire? Were the images carved into the Nazca plains made by or for extraterrestrials? But nothing held Dad’s imagination hostage like the mystery animals — Bigfoot, Nessie, the swamp monster of the Louisiana Bayou. It took years to gestate, but when he came back from the Gulf War, he was obsessed. He started taking road trips with army buddies, visiting dark forests and quiet lakes, looking for creatures that conventional science scoffed at. Sometimes he’d take me along. But as the trips, which usually took place on school days, became more frequent, he usually ended up driving off by himself, leaving Mom and me waving in the driveway.
Eventually, he acted as if he was still travelling even when he was at home. He crashed on the couch or slept on the air mattress in the basement. His relationship with Mom became more that of lodger and host than husband and wife. He gave up looking for substantial employment altogether, opting to make just enough money to pay for his expeditions.
But for all his research, all his hours sleeping on hard ground and cooking over a campfire, the only things he had to show for it were a collection of blurry photographs and overflowing boxes of notebooks. When Dad took off, the notebooks were all that was left of him. Mom couldn’t bear to throw them out.
Every entry in those notebooks began the same. The name of a monster, or cryptid if you’re in that community, was written in capital letters, my dad tracing each letter in blue ink multiple times and underlining it with the same thickness. Then came pages upon pages of background — everything Dad had picked up at the local library or from TV documentaries. Finally, the entry became a journal, marked with the dates and times of his own explorations.
When I was a girl, I had no idea how far he drove on those trips. Only looking back can I compute the distances between Washington State, where we lived, and places like Point Pleasant, West Virginia, and Lake Champlain, Vermont. He even crossed the border into Canada, which seemed to have as many lake monster legends as it had lakes.
Dad’s last complete entry was about a lake monster called Cressie that supposedly lived in Lake Crescent on the island of Newfoundland in eastern Canada. Though Dad had written pages of background information about Cressie, there were almost no notes about his visit there. The only thing he had recorded, in the margins of the notebook, was the location and departure date and time for the ferry from North Sydney, Nova Scotia, to Port-aux-Basques, Newfoundland. The date he’d jotted down was one week after the last time I ever saw him.
I remember the day he left. Mom tore into him right there as he was packing the station wagon, her voice resounding through the trees that separated our property from the neighbours’. Dad never came back inside the house after that. He didn’t hug me or kiss the top of my head, just gave me his half salute and smiled. Soon, the back of the station wagon disappeared as the road curved around the splayed-finger branches of the evergreens. I never dared to cry in front of him, saving that for later, once I was sure he was long gone and I was in my bed, a pillow muffling my sobs.
I wonder how far he got before realizing he’d left his notebook behind.
Our expedition to Crescent Lake would be a wild goose chase. I knew that going in. But the terms of my deal with the TV network stated very clearly that I could pick any cryptid anywhere in the world to cover in our second episode. So, why not Cressie?
You couldn’t tell it was late April when we landed. The Deer Lake airport was thoroughly dusted with snow, and high winds whistled through the automatic doors as the oil patch workers ahead of us went outside to greet their waiting loved ones. We were officially one month into spring, but this part of Newfoundland had apparently missed the memo.
The season, however, seemed to change sometime during the hour-and-a-half drive to Robert’s Arm. The sun was out, and it truly felt like a spring day, though with a definite chill in the air. I was surprised to see the harbour nearly empty, with the fleets of fishing boats already out on the water.
I suppose they had to get out on the water as soon as the opportunity presented itself. Gone were the days when, as Captain John Cabot’s crew remarked, the sea was “full of fish that can be taken not only with nets but with fishing-baskets.” The catch each individual boat can now expect has, in the past few decades, decreased significantly.
Much of the island of Newfoundland is a scar left over from the ice age, the soil having been scraped off into the oceans long ago by the receding glaciers. The harbour at Robert’s Arm was cradled by tree-covered hills that rose up to the rocky cliffs, as if protecting it from the ocean that swept in through a narrow gap. The main road led to the docks and boats; smaller roads criss-crossed up and along the hills, leading to houses, huts, and cabins nestled among the wind-swept trees and lichen-covered rock. Forces of nature left their fingerprints all over this landscape, and though it was weathered and cracked, it refused to break.
This was a beautiful wild place, but I was just too tired to fully appreciate it. I hadn’t had a moment to truly rest since we’d left Silver Spring, Maryland, hours earlier.
We dropped off our luggage at the Lake Crescent Inn, had a late breakfast that included lots of coffee, then climbed right back into the two rental vans. Our schedule was tight, and we had to get started.
Robert’s Arm was a picturesque town, with old houses dotting the shore and aluminum boats with outboard motors and other pleasure craft listing gently in the harbour. It was also eerily still, but for the odd sign of life now and then: a car would appear for a moment, then disappear behind an outcropping of trees; a small aluminum boat with an outboard engine would tear through the water, then vanish just as quickly as it had arrived.
After we parked, I got out and stood gazing out over the water, breathing in the cool sea air. I noticed a huge building perched on the hill at the edge of the narrow peninsula that pinched the bay before it flowed out into the ocean. The peaks of its roof and the chimney jutted up over the trees like a castle guarding the entrance to Robert’s Arm. At the bottom of the hill, the trees opened to reveal the entrance to a driveway. The road that curved around the bay ended there, and on the side opposite the driveway was a dock that looked lonely so far from the others.
“Interested in a spot of ghost-hunting?” someone whispered in my ear.
I’d been in a trance and started at the interruption.
It was Duncan Laidlaw, a British paleontologist who’d joined our team for this expedition.
“It does look like a beautiful old place. But look where it is. Like it was built by someone who wanted to lord their wealth and power over everybody else,” I replied.
“I imagine that was precisely the idea. Why it was built up there, lording over all the other houses in town. Probably comes with a dungeon for deformed heirs or something of the like,” he said, laughing.
Duncan and I turned and walked down the dock toward a white-and-blue fishing boat, patches of paint peeling off it like diseased skin. Next to the vessel stood a hunched man. I assumed this was Phil Parsons, known locally as “Captain Phil.” We’d arranged for him to take us out on the waters of Lake Crescent in his boat, the Darling Mae. The purpose being to search for giant eels.
“That’s me,” he said, removing his Greek-style cotton fisherman’s cap and walking across the dock, hand extended. “How d’you do, my dear?”
Dupuis nicely captures the feeling of Robert's Arm with its quirky residents and slowly builds tension as what begins as a fish tale develops into a gripping murder mystery. With luck, Laura and her friends will be back soon.
Dupuis peppers his novel with fascinating research into Indigenous stories [and] evolutionary mutations ... Lake Crescent is a fantastic instalment to the Creature X Mystery series.
Murder, pirate treasure, and lake monsters — how can you go wrong? This smart and atmospheric mystery explores the murky depths where science and legend collide. Laura Reagan navigates through a world of small-town treachery, trying to unravel age-old secrets of monsters and men alike. The mysteries keep coming the deeper she goes. With beautifully written descriptions, Dupuis plunges the reader right into the heart of the action. Laura Reagan is hunting monsters but it'll be the reader who gets hooked.
A.G. Pasquella, author of the Jack Palace series
What starts as a hunt for the lake monster Cressie, quickly turns into an enjoyable whodunnit with a plot that brings to mind both Raymond Chandler and Neil Gaiman.
Eduard Habsburg-Lothringen, Hungarian-German writer and diplomat
Dupuis, in the space of one novel, feels like he’s grown as a writer, layering in a stronger story with fascinating and familiar characters, and while once again, there ends up being no proof one way or the other of something monstrous lurking around, it also doesn’t quell the imagination.
The Mind Reels
This was a fun book ... A definite recommendation for fans of the genre who might like a little more science sprinkled on top.
A Librarian on Elm Street
A mysterious and interesting romp into Canadian cryptid history! Readers — especially Atlantic Canadians — will enjoy this 'deep dive' into the legend of Cressie, the mythical eel-like serpent that supposedly inhabits Lake Crescent in Newfoundland and Labrador. Lake Crescent: A Creature X Mystery by J.J. Dupuis will keep you guessing until the end.
Timothy S. Johnston, award-winning author of The Tanner Sequence series
Set against the stunning and mercurial backdrop of rural Newfoundland, the book is part zoological expedition, part murder mystery, all while deliciously delving into local Canadian lore — a thoroughly gripping read from the first page to the last.
Vivian Lin, screenwriter of Hudson and Rex and Killjoys
Going both behind the camera and on location, Lake Crescent is an intelligent mystery novel that balances facts and intrigue with finesse.
J.J. Dupuis crafts a mystery that's atmospheric and layered, where myth and legend clash with real-world stakes. Lake Crescent pulled me under and kept me eager to know more.
Samantha K. Garner, author of The Quiet is Loud
Other titles by J.J. Dupuis
The Quarantine Review, Issue 11
A Creature X Mystery