Imagine that you discover that your husband of almost a decade is a serial killer. Imagine finding yourself accused of being an accomplice. Imagine that once you’re acquitted, no one believes that you’re innocent, and the internet trolls at large come after you and your (definitely innocent) children. That’s the world for Gwen Proctor, aka Gina Royal, who has been on the run for four years from the strangers who want to harm her and her family. They’ve landed in a backwoods town in a house at the edge of a lake, and it seems as if her family might finally settle…until bodies start to appear.
So I’m always on the fence about thrillers, and this one? This one lands on the side of excellent. This one has a mystery of course, but the focus is on the psychology. What would it be like to discover that your life was a lie, and then to have no one believe you, and then to have the internet come after you in force, never relenting? What would it be like to receive the kind of hate that Gwen receives, photos of her children’s faces doctored into other situations (from tortured bodies to child pornography to her ex-husband’s victims)? How would the constant paranoia and running affect you and your children? What if you could never trust anyone again? This is what I found most compelling in Stillhouse Lake. So compelling, in fact, that I actually flipped ahead to find out the secrets so that the mystery wouldn’t distract me as I read.
The pacing was excellent. The characters felt human, flawed and nuanced. The psychology – of Gwen, of her kids, of the various people who try to hurt, help, and/or dig into the mystery that is the Proctor family – is all well-researched and spot-on. The thriller is layered and builds tension without resorting to cheap shock-value twists. The novel was definitely a human story – a person caught up in a nightmare world, pushed to the edge of reality, gaslit her whole life and unable to trust her own judgement. Sure, there is murder and a killer and a threat, but that was layered into the bigger story of Gwen’s personal hell and how she pushes through it. That was what really made this book wonderful.
This is the first book in a series. Unlike the last mystery I read, I felt this one firmly wrapped up one story, while opening a teaser to the next in the larger series plot. It was a perfect way to end, and I’m not sure if I’ll move on to Killman Creek immediately or wait a bit to get my bearings first.