Thomas & Mercer | 2017
Filed Under: Doxxing a serial killer’s family, like true internet heroes
After reading this I am going to be on high alert-code orange, for any signs my darling husband is a deranged serial killer.
I mean, he has serious deep-rooted hate for bunnies, so that’s got to be red flag number one. All I need now is to find a locked room in our house that I’m never allowed to go in, and it’s all but confirmed. I’m going to have to kill him. I can’t turn him in. I love him too much.
But we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.
Stillhouse Lake by Rachel Caine is a different twist on the usual serial killer thriller. This time the killer is behind bars and the star of the show is his ex-wife.
For the duration of their marriage, Gina Royal had no idea her seemingly sweet husband and doting father of her children, Melvin, was stringing women up in the garage and doing things with the skin (Hannibal Lecter shout-out) until a drunk driver rams into their house and reveals his last victim. But honestly, with a name like Melvin, wouldn’t you have had an inkling? Sorry to all the Melvins out there, but let’s be real.
Usually, coincidental happenstance to bring about a plot event can come across as cheap or lazy to me, but the sheer drama of the reveal was so unexpected that it worked and was a perfect hook to open this novel. No one reads about a body hanging in a garage and thinks, nah this isn’t for me. Next!
Or like some people do, but I’m not friends with them.
Years later, Melvin is on death row and Gina, along with her two children, is on the run. New I.D.s, new cities, never settling down because of determined internet trolls who believe Gina knew exactly what her husband’s after-work hobby was. To them, she’s guilty of his crimes as well and has escaped justice. She must be punished. And that’s some misogynistic shit, but what can you really expect from the kind of people who would dox someone?
“I’m not on the run from the law. Just from the lawless.”
I will admit this part of the story – which was a pretty big element – was kind of… ridiculous? Granted, I don’t have any experience with being the wife of a serial killer (that I know of 👀), and I’ve never been affected by internet doxing or cancel culture, but I feel like I’ve witnessed the internet’s wrath with some regularity. And I’ve seen the general public’s wrath towards women who escape the justice some feel is warranted – Casey Anthony, Karla Homolka, for starters.
The internet has a mighty fury, but also a short attention span.
Casey Anthony sure as shit isn’t running from state to state trying to escape her internet stalkers. Bitch is just laying low, getting away with murder – you know, living her best life.
So, excuse me if I find it a little bit far-fetched that Gwen Proctor and her kids have been on the run for years and the internet’s fury had been consistently unrelenting in the most vicious possible way.
“…female accomplices are hated so much more. It’s a toxic stew of misogyny and self-righteous fury, and the simple, delicious fact that it’s okay to destroy the woman, where it’s not okay to destroy others.”
Gwen thinks she’s finally found a safe haven, at least for a little while, in a quiet Tennessee town. The kids are making friends, coming out of their shells and finally feeling relaxed enough to attempt some connections. Gwen herself has even made a friend, someone she might be able to confide in. But, of course, just when things are feeling alright for the first time in a long time, a body turns up in the lake right outside her house – a woman killed using the same twisted signature as Dear Ol’ Melvin. Suddenly the life Gwen had only just dared to cultivate, begins to unravel at a breakneck pace and she scrambles to keep her kids safe and her secrets buried.
In letting go of the ridiculous parts, this was a thumbs-up book for me.
Gwen’s dedication to the safety of her children – so much so that it often made her do crazy things – was turned up to the perfect temperature. Her struggle with flight or fight was too real. You want to protect your kids, but is it really protecting them if they never have the semblance of a normal life? Can you run forever? What happens if you stay and fight, but risk losing? Who can you trust when everyone hates you?
I have to say though, that if I had to hear MY CHILDREENNN!!!!! from Gwen one more time I might have barfed.
The atmosphere, the setting and the tension of Stillhouse Lake were A+. I did find it a little slow for the first 40% – which I chalk up to an over-explanation of how Gwen was running away and what her “routines” were. But once you get past that point, there is no return. There is never a moment of calm again. As Smashmouth says, the shit starts coming, and it doesn’t stop coming.
Okay, that might not be the exact lyric but how can you pass up a chance to include Smashmouth in a book review?
Gwen’s character development went exactly the way you wanted it to. You knew by the end that she’s definitely not a victim any longer.
“…everyone runs from the monster. Everyone except the monster slayer…”
Bonus: it ends in my favourite way possible – a cliffhanger!!
It’s suspense right up to the very last sentence.
Gina Royal is the definition of average—a shy Midwestern housewife with a happy marriage and two adorable children. But when a car accident reveals her husband’s secret life as a serial killer, she must remake herself as Gwen Proctor—the ultimate warrior mom.
With her ex now in prison, Gwen has finally found refuge in a new home on remote Stillhouse Lake. Though still the target of stalkers and Internet trolls who think she had something to do with her husband’s crimes, Gwen dares to think her kids can finally grow up in peace.
But just when she’s starting to feel at ease in her new identity, a body turns up in the lake—and threatening letters start arriving from an all-too-familiar address. Gwen Proctor must keep friends close and enemies at bay to avoid being exposed—or watch her kids fall victim to a killer who takes pleasure in tormenting her. One thing is certain: she’s learned how to fight evil. And she’ll never stop.
Book source: Thomas & Mercer via Netgalley in exchange for a review