Ryan Cane is a 26-year-old artist living in New York City alongside her circle of friends. One summer, she is invited by a friend named Walter to stay with ten of their other friends at a nice house on the lake.
The house isn't just nice, it's really nice. Owned-by-a-millionaire nice. And Walter has given Ryan and her friends nicknames and symbols — Ryan's is THE ARTIST, while Norah Jakobs is THE WRITER, David Daye is THE COMEDIAN, Molly Reynolds is THE ACCOUNTANT, Veronica Wright is THE SCIENTIST, Sam Nguyen is THE REPORTER, Arturo Perez is THE ACUPUNCTURIST, Sarah Radnitz is THE CONSULTANT, Naya Radia is THE DOCTOR, and Rick MacEwen is THE PIANIST. Only Walter doesn't have a nickname.
As the night goes on and they party beside the pool, however, Ryan begins to realize something is wrong. Something has happened in New York City — people are burning to death spontaneously. Their skin is sloughing off, their eyes melting in their sockets. People are dying and nobody knows why.
As everyone prepares to leave the house, however, Ryan realizes this is why Walter brought them there. Walter tells them they can't leave — he loves them, so he has made sure to spare them from the genocide his people are doing. They will survive the apocalypse...but they can't leave the house on the lake. Ever.
Tropes in The Nice House on the Lake:
- Affably Evil: Walter tells his friends that he genuinely loves them, which is why he is saving them...but the rest of the world is going to die.
- Anachronic Order: The opening of the book is Ryan with bandages on her face and holding a spear talking about the first time she met Walter. It then flashes back to her being invited to the house on the lake by Walter and the story continues from there, with narration from Ryan.
- Bait-and-Switch: The Ryan from the present day is wearing bandages on her face and holding a spear, indicating something bad has happened. She also puts on a N95 respirator, indicating that perhaps there is something toxic in the air...until we get to the beginning of the story and see that she already had the respirator due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
- Big Fancy House: The book is, after all, called The Nice House on the Lake. It's really nice and includes pretty much everything the characters could want, including a movie theatre. Of course, Walter did this because he knew that they could never leave.
- Body Horror: Walter's constantly shifting horror of a head.
- Driven to Suicide: The guests can request items from Walter by writing on a notepad. Molly requests a gun, a rope and then a straight razor when her requests for her husband and parents alive and well aren't granted.
- Eye Scream:
- One of the social media posters says his brother was on Twitch when his eyeballs melted.
- Ryan has badly injured/lost her eye by the point of her future narration.
- Framing Device: Each issue begins with one of the guests narrating to the audience in the future. Each of them is dressed in survival gear, some have been badly injured (Rick has burned arms, Ryan has her eye covered etc.), and they are apparently at the burning remains of the House's grounds.
- Hidden Depths: As Walter points out, David can be "pretty stupid" a lot of the time, but he is a remarkably perceptive individual who understands people. David is the first to realise that the guests can't remember how they arrived at the Nice House, and that they can't die. He also gives Molly an empathic speech about her suicidal tendencies.
- Human Aliens: Walter talks about what his "people" are going to do to the planet, but he appears entirely human. When Norah tries to kill him with a fire poker, however, she slices through his head, but it appears to completely replace itself within seconds.
- Intrepid Reporter: Sam 'the Reporter' is the one most determined to solve the mystery of the House and its separation from the world.
- Manipulative Bastard: Walter, who plays the group off against each other to make them stay calmly at the House. Sam even suspects that Walter created the mysterious statues and dark block as a mystery to deliberately distract the group, rather than it being an actual clue to their situation.
- No-Sell: Norah hits Walter across the face with a fire poker. It bisects his head, but then his head just puts itself back together again. Meanwhile, Norah's hand gets torn off.
- Scary Shiny Glasses: Walter wears these, making him appear sinister.
- Shout-Out: In Issue 4, David is wearing Ferris Bueller's Iconic Outfit, having apparently requested it from Walter via the notepad.
- Spontaneous Human Combustion: How the end of the world happens, apparently. Ryan sees through social media that people are just going up in flames. There are bigger firestorms, too, but they are probably caused by people on fire. The reason for this is Walter's "people" — one social media post even says "THERE IS SOMETHING IN THE SKY BEHIND THE FIRE. LOOK BEHIND THE FIRE, AT THE COLOR THAT HURTS YOUR EYES."
- The Last of These Is Not Like the Others: Walter is the last of the cast to appear at the House, and unlike the others he has no surname, nickname, symbol or description.