Written by Rachel Caine — A drunk driver loses control of his vehicle and hits a house in Wichita, Kansas, shattering the lives of Gina Royal and her two children forever – and not in the way you might imagine. There’s not a scratch on Gina and her young son and daughter, in fact they weren’t even at home when the accident happened, but the collision causes irreparable harm to more than a mere property.
As police arrive on the scene to inspect the damage and book the culprit they are not prepared for what they find. The crash has taken out the side wall of the attached garage – and hanging inside is the flayed body of a young woman. Gina thought her husband Melvin did woodwork in his garage workshop, but serial killer Mel was up to much more gruesome activities, killing young women and then leaving their mutilated bodies weighed down in deep water.
Gina knew nothing of her husband’s proclivities, but that doesn’t stop the police from charging her with being an accessory to multiple murders. She spends months on remand, but when Gina is finally freed the nightmare is only just beginning. In this age of the internet, how can she escape the trolls who want Gina and her children to pay for Melvin’s crimes… with their lives?
Four years on and Gina is now Gwen Proctor, living at Stillhouse Lake in Tennessee, sick of running and hoping against hope that this time she, 14-year-old Atlanta (Lanny) and Connor, aged 10, can put down roots and stay. Things are looking hopeful, until the mutilated body of a young woman is found floating in the lake, having escaped the bindings that held her at the bottom. Suddenly, all eyes are on the Proctors and none of them look friendly.
Mousy Gina was content to be a mother and housewife. Gwen, however, is a tough cookie and she’s not about to let anyone touch her family. She becomes convinced that, somehow, her ex-husband is orchestrating things from his cell on death row. But that’s impossible… isn’t it?
Rachel Caine is a pen name of Roxanne Longstreet Conrad, an American writer of science fiction, fantasy, mystery, horror and suspense novels. She also publishes media tie-in novels as Julie Fortune. There’s more than a touch of horror about the setting of this book – a lonely property, set away from the neighbours, in the woods, near a lake is all so Stephen King, isn’t it? Caine also knows how to ratchet up the tension and there were times when I found myself gripping the covers so tightly that my knuckles were whitening!
There are a couple of missteps in the Gina’s actions the jar with the image of someone who has spent four years on high alert. She becomes a warrior woman of a character, a lioness who will always put her children first, no matter what. So why did I find myself shouting at her, pantomime style, on occasion? This is the only failing in a book which is high on drama, rich in characterisation and blessed with lushly rendered settings. It’s also a refreshing change to experience a story from the perspective of the family the criminal duped and then left to deal with the consequences.
If you’re brave enough, settle down alone in a favourite reading chair and fall under the spell of Stillwater Lake. But don’t be surprised if you find yourself jumping at every unexplained noise, and perhaps steer clear of any isolated properties in the deep, dark woods for a while!
Thomas & Mercer
CFL Rating: 4 Stars