What is this about?: Gwen and her kids Lani and Connor are in hiding at Stillhouse Lake, the first house they’ve dared to let themselves like in the four years since leaving their old lives behind as the family of serial killer, Mel. But their past isn’t quite done with them yet.
What else is this about?: Understanding Gwen, the choices she’s made for her kids and herself, and why she’s not going to let Mel Royal win. Unfortunately, it comes with some muddled characterisation with respect to Gwen and the men in her life that I don’t quite understand.
Blurb: 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.
Gina Royal died the moment she saw the cops in front of her house and the woman hanging from her garage rafters. In her place Gwen emerged, the woman who survived a year in jail as an alleged accomplice of her husband’s, who survived the threats against her kids and herself until she packed them up and went on the run. Gwen is the one who teaches her children to be beyond cautious and who checks the trolls out there in the internet determined to find her and to hurt her children for daring to have Mel as a husband and father.
Gwen is dubbed as such by her daughter Atlanta, and she’s not wrong. The book is filled with how their life has changed, how Gwen stores guns in the house, the car and when she goes running. How she runs panic drills in her head, and ensures her kids know how to hide in the panic room when the need arises. She is militant about it, and when she realises her kids are chafing under her control, she realises they are getting comfortable at Stillhouse Lake, and that scares her. That means they’re easily found, but on the other hand, it forces her to recognise that after four years, her kids’ behaviour is changing from all their moving around, and her son especially needs some stability.
Connor is a sensitive kid, who doesn’t quite remember the aftermath of his father’s arrest because he was so young. But now, he’s at an age when he realises he is his father’s son and wonders what that could mean for him. Gwen realises for him to be on the run constantly, means he’s always afraid of who he is. Atlanta, on the other hand, is going goth in an effort to keep people at bay. It’s a survival tactic because she expects to be told to go on the run at any time.
The characterisation of Gwen and the kids are off the charts brilliant. Caine captures their fearful existence and Gwen’s militant focus on keeping them safe even as she tries to shield them from the horrors of the reality of what their father did.
But where it falters is when it comes to Gwen and the men in this story. In truth, this is a book that could have done without any sort of romantic anything given Gwen’s history — even as yes, she’s allowed to have some sort of happiness in her life. But I was struck that she hasn’t left Mel behind, that (and the book bears this out) she’s always going to feel like he’s coming for her, and that trusting any man would be hard for her.
Which is why it’s so surprising to have her trust Sam in this book. Sure there’s some caution in the beginning, before she too easily lets him in to their lives. Is it her desire to have something normal? Sure, it could be, but then she still continues to do her sicko patrol (checking the internet for the threats to her kids), so she knows normal is a long way away for her.
Then there’s the weird way she notices a guy’s interest in her in the beginning, who then becomes an adversary when another romantic interest appears and it’s just weird and hampers the flow of the book. In fact the pacing with the chosen romantic interest slows down the middle of the book, but thankfully the rest of the plot kept me going.
The you know, actual plot
While the book establishes pretty early on that Gwen is always on the watch for threats to her family, what she does not expect is a dead woman in the lake on which her house stands. Just the way her ex serial killer husband got rid of his victims. She quickly becomes the top of the cops’ suspect list, and soon enough her past and Mel’s past comes to light.
The cops though are somewhat cookie-cutter characters, which was disappointing. They did exactly what you would expect them to do. Thankfully Gwen is strong enough of a character to keep readers engaged even through those scenes.
Gwen also realises that her husband, Mel is behind the bodies in the lake. Even from death row, he exerts control over his minions, who are the ones she’s sure are killing the women the cops are finding. Caine kept me on the edge of my seat as the ending revealed some goodness I didn’t see coming (are twists really that easy to see coming these days?) .