Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Review: Stillhouse Lake by Rachel Caine

PLOT:
Gina Royal is married to Melvin Royal, they have a perfect life until one day she comes home and finds that someone has crashed a car into their house, leaving a gaping hole in the wall of the garage. As a result her husband is arrested, tried and convicted as a serial killer. Gina Royal becomes Gwen Proctor and sets about putting her life back together and raising her kids the best she can. 
They move to Stillhouse Lake and try to rebuild their lives. Stillhouse Lake offers them something new, they feel settled and like this could be a permanent home. Until a body is found in the lake and the police question Gwen about it. 

This body in the lake sets off a chain of events that soon spiral out of control until Gwen finds herself fighting to prove her innocence and protect her children from people who are determined to ruin their lives because of her connection to Melvin Royal. 

SETTING: 
This book is primarily set in Stillhouse Lake, where Gwen and her children have bought a new home yet again. Having moved from place to place, dodging internet trolls who find their address and post it online so people can continue a campaign of hatred toward the family, this is a fresh start in a beautiful place. 

Stillhouse Lake was originally built as an upmarket gated community for wealthy families who wanted lakeside houses for the summer, but now it is much more dilapidated and lower class. 

The setting is almost immediately eerie while still being picturesque. There is something isolating and insulated about this fictional community that lends itself to this story and creates a perfect backdrop of beautiful isolation. The community is small and people are wary of outsiders, which suits Gwen just fine. 

This “Us vs Them” mentality adds to the notion that we are outsiders looking in. That we are following Gwen and her children while they try to rebuild their lives. 

CHARACTERS:
Gwen and her children, Atlanta and Connor, are happy in Stillhouse Lake. After years of running from internet trolls and the pain that Melvin Royal’s disgusting deeds caused, Gwen almost feels safe and settled in Stillhouse Lake. Connor is slowly making friends and exploring hobbies, and while Atlanta (Lanny) is still prickly and unapproachable she is slowly coming out of her shell too. 
Gwen has final got her concealed carry gun permit and feels comfortable with her weapon after getting her gun licence with the help of instructor Javier. While she doesn’t exactly trust him with the secret of her past, she has become fond of him for the help he has offered her. 

Gwen meets Sam Cade when he brings Connor home one day. Connor had disappeared from school and Lanny called Gwen, panicking that Connor was gone. Just as Gwen is about to call the police and report him missing, Sam knocks on the front door and Connor, with a bleeding nose, explains that Mr. Cade had helped him get home. 

Gwen is initially very suspicious of Sam and grills him about his reasons for helping Connor. While their friendship starts out on rocky footing, Sam’s offer of help leads to them becoming friends. 

Each character has a rich, well explored back story and each character feels like they could be a person you would know in every day life, with the exception of Melvin who is the archetype of every serial killer character.

 Usually having villains who are stereotypes is a problem for me, but in this book it works incredibly well. Melvin didn’t come from a broken home or have a traumatic past in any way. He wasn’t evil in the pursuit of revenge, he is the epitome of evil for evil’s sake. He is every man a woman has had to fear while walking alone at night, or in an isolated area. Every man we have been taught to fear. A nameless, faceless horror who could be your neighbour or your dentist. 

SIMILAR BOOKS/AUTHORS: In the bit of reading I’ve done about Stillhouse Lake, there are lots of comparisons to Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins and a lot of comments saying that they are similar. Frankly I don’t see the similarities. I loved Gone Girl and didn’t really like Girl on the Train, but I really, really enjoyed Stillhouse Lake. I think a lot of people are tempted to compare these books because the main characters are women with secrets and unpleasant pasts but for me, that’s where the similarity ends. Gwen doesn’t have any ulterior motives or sinister intent. She is a mother who is protecting her children from a world that would rather see them rotting in prison with their father or worse, despite the fact that they are innocent of any involvement. 

I do understand comparisons to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. The main reason for this comparison for me personally, is the atmospheric nature of the book and the writing. So much of the plot hinges on the environment. The notion of the lake being somewhere people go to enjoy leisure activities while being dark and murky under the surface. 

It also gives me a similar vibe to I Found You by Lisa Jewell which I also read recently (if you’d like a review of I Found You, please leave a comment letting me know!). 

THINGS I WOULD CHANGE:
There are very few things I would change about this book in all honesty, and that doesn’t happen often for me. I am an amateur writer and sometimes I find myself critiquing a book from an author’s point of view and thinking “I would have written it differently” or “Why did x do y instead of z?” but with this, every scene was perfectly crafted, especially the establishing chapters which led very neatly to the climax and conclusion. 

That is not to say this book is predictable. It absolutely is not, at various points throughout the book I had pinned the murders on nearly every single character, including one very elderly man who couldn’t possibly have done it, but Rachel Caine is such a brilliant writer that I was perfectly willing to believe that that old guy could have had super human abilities or something.

I think perhaps I would have shown a little more of the actions of the trolls pursuing Gwen, I think it would have added to the fear that Gwen felt and the reader would have connected a lot quicker. However, as it is, I sympathised with Gwen almost immediately. 

FINAL THOUGHTS:
This was such an expertly crafted book that in essence it could have ended in any way and I would have found the ending believable and worthwhile. Rachel Caine is a master of writing a thriller that leaves you guessing up until the last moment and then you fall over the edge and hurtle toward the end with lightning speed. This book is definitely in my top 10 for 2018 and I am just about to start the sequel Killman Creek because I am not ready to leave these wonderful characters yet. 

Stillhouse Lake can be purchased on amazon.com 

I did not receive this book for review. I purchased a copy of this book myself. 


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