Book Review: Stillhouse Lake by Rachel Caine
While I’d read some of Rachel Caine’s urban fantasy books, I hadn’t read any of her thrillers. However, when I received an ARC of book 5 in the Stillhouse Lake series, I decided to go back and read this series from the beginning, and boy, am I glad I did.
Gwen Proctor is determined not to become collateral damage. A suburban mom of two kids, she hadn’t the faintest idea her husband Melvin Royal was a brutal serial killer, torturing and murdering young women in their garage. When Melvin’s gruesome handiwork is exposed by the random accident of a drunk driver running into the garage, Gwen’s world is turned upside down. Finally acquitted of involvement, she’s just desperate to protect her kids from those who would like to see anything to do with Melvin Royal utterly destroyed. Going through eight identities in just a few years, she is finally trying to settle down to something approaching normality in the tiny Tennessee community of Stillhouse Lake… when the first body turns up, floating in the lake.
This is such a good story. Gwen’s a fighter, a survivor; you can feel her empathy for the victims and the horror their families have endured, and you’re willing her on in her determination to protect Lanny and Connor, her kids.
There’s some interesting subtextual commentary here about internet trolls and the people who will say and do anything as long as they believe themselves to be protected by the anonymity of the keyboard. Perhaps those reading the story might think twice before they jump to judgement or to make that harsh comment about someone they don’t even know. At least one character here does change their mind after coming to know Gwen (I won’t spoiler who, but it’s someone who had good cause to want justice and even revenge) but the reality is, you shouldn’t have to get to know someone personally to believe in their innocence - especially when they’ve been acquitted. Gwen’s reality of constant vigilance, of the Sicko Patrol where she has no choice but to immerse herself in the vitriol-laden, conspiracy-theory-rife depths of the internet in order to determine whether there is clear and present danger to herself and her children on a daily basis - is a sobering reminder that any of us might be only one degree of separation away from such a fate ourselves. Contaminated by association, there’s no end in sight for Gwen and her kids. Only, somehow, carrying on and making lives for themselves despite it.
There are some threads that don’t get tied off here, and it does end on something of a cliffhanger, but it’s just such a fantastic read. I didn’t hesitate before diving straight into Book 2.