Book Review: Stillhouse Lake by Rachel Caine
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Thriller, Mystery
Series: Book 1 of Gwen Proctor
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer (July 1, 2017)
Length: 302 pages
Rachel Caine does thriller-suspense! And she’s a natural at it, if Stillhouse Lake is any indication. Before picking this one up on a whim, I’d only read her books in the YA fantasy series The Great Library and was curious to see how she would tackle a different genre. Now though, I can safely say that my esteem has only grown for her talent and versatility as a writer.
The story follows Gina Royal, a woman who has had her life turned upside down. Before that fateful day when everything changed, she was just your average Midwestern housewife with a loving husband and two great kids, blissfully unaware of anything wrong with her life. Then, a drunk driver accidentally slams his car into the side of the Royals’ house, exposing the dark secret that has been kept hidden for years within its walls. As it turns out, Gina’s husband has been concealing his double life as a serial killer, and she is as shocked to discover it as anyone else. Not surprisingly, the public found that difficult to believe and thus she was tried as his accomplice, and only after years of trials did she manage to convince the court of her innocence.
However, by then the damage had been done. Most of the country now believes her guilty, claiming that no one could have lived in that house for years with a murderer, not knowing what was going on right underneath her roof. Gina knows she had been naïve, giving her husband all the space and privacy he’d asked for, never questioning anything he did. But even though he is now in prison, her nightmare is far from over. The constant harassment and death threats from doxxers and internet trolls have led her to fear for her life and those of her children, leading them to take on new identities and stay on the move. Gina is now Gwen Proctor, and she is a new woman—tough and independent, but also anxious and paranoid, unwilling to let her guard down even for a second. That is, until the family arrives at Stillhouse Lake, a small rural community in Tennessee where Gwen dares to imagine that her family might have finally found some semblance of peace and stability. But then that fleeting moment of happiness is shattered by a gruesome discovery in the lake, a dead body that shows signs of being tortured and killed in the same manner of her ex-husband’s victims. Suddenly, Gwen finds herself under suspicion again—only this time, she may be a target too.
While Stillhouse Lake may lack the complexity of some of the more high-profile books in its genre, it’s nonetheless one of the more enjoyable and addictive mystery-thrillers I’ve ever read. It all started with the intro, which was an insanely nerve-wracking and tense few pages, especially if you were like me and didn’t read the publisher’s description too closely before I started the book. My heart felt like it was being squeezed in a vise as I watched the events unfold, not having a clue what the hell was going on but at the same time being cognizant enough of the situation to know nothing good could come out of it for Gina/Gwen and her family. From then on, the story takes off—perhaps not like a rocket, but definitely more like a powerful steam locomotive that gradually builds up speed before hurtling off towards its mysterious and unforeseeable destination.
Gwen is also a character you can sympathize with, if not relate to (because let’s face it, her situation is pretty unique). We know she is innocent because we get to be in her head—but imagine looking at her story from an outsider’s point-of-view, and it easy to see why she has been driven to her wit’s end by fear and paranoia. So much of her actions may seem extreme or unnecessary, but again, we’re privy to the truth while the rest of the world believes her to be a monster complicit in her ex-husband’s horrific crimes. Also, anyone who has spent enough time on the internet knows how vile people can be when acting under conditions of anonymity, as well as how far some are willing to go when they think their actions are justified. It was easy to feel for Gwen, not only because she’s a mother who wants the best for her children, but also because she’s living with a tremendous amount of guilt. She might not have known what her husband was up to all those years living with him in their old house, but the realization of how naïve and complaisant she was in the face of his manipulative charms is going to haunt her forever.
Having only read the author’s fantasy work before this, I found Stillhouse Lake to be very different but no less engrossing and addictive. Nail-bitingly intense and unsettling, the story managed to lure me in before swiftly sinking its hooks into my mind, consuming my attention. I was a little surprised to learn there will be a sequel, which I gathered simply based on how the book ended (with an edge-of-your-seat climax that led to a satisfying closure, while still leaving things open enough for more to come). Still, it’s news that fills me with excitement. Needless to say, I’ll be continuing with the series, and I can’t wait to read on and find out what happens next.