"Stillhouse Lake" is one of the most tense, realistic and original thrillers I've read in a long time. From the brutal discovery of the opening scenes through to the violence of the conclusion, this was a narrative that grabbed hold of my attention and never let go.
The story is told from the point of view of Gina Royale, the innocent-but-believed-by-most-to-be-guilty wife of a sadistic serial killer who abducted young women and tortured them to death in his garage workshop. Gina and her two children have been hiding from the many vigilantes who want to harm her and her kids to avenge the murdered women. They have moved home and changed identities many times and live as much off the grid as possible. Gina has made herself into Gwen Proctor, a woman who knows how to shoot and how to hide in plain sight and who lives in a permanent state of paranoia.
Gwen Proctor doesn't trust, doesn't relax and doesn't ever let herself of her kids do anything that attracts attention. Her constant alertness, her security drills, her background checks and her insistence on a zero social media presence would seem paranoid were it not the brutality of the threat she is under.
Living in Gwen's head felt filled me with a very uncomfortable level of tension, and claustrophobia. The violence of what was done to the murdered woman and what trolls are threatening to do to Gwen and her children is described with brutal bluntness. There's no ghoulish exploitation but the actions themselves are so vile that they stain your mind as you read them. Gwen's calm risk assessments and detailed planning to protect herself and her children are chilling. Her inability to trust those who may be trying to help her poisons everything. I admired her courage but wondered how anyone could survive living with so much pressure for so long.
Then, in the second half of the book, everything goes to hell and the tension goes from a constant dull-ache to a wild scream of pain and adrenalin.
The plot is full of surprises but there is no cheating. Everything works. It's just hard to see the truth. Gwen is warrior-strong: vigilant, disciplined, fierce but constantly afraid, and often flooded with guilt about what she should have seen and done when the man she lived with and shared a bed with was torturing women,
"Stillhouse Lake" is not a comfortable read but it is tense, credible, suspenseful and surprising.
The audiobook version is brilliantly performed by Emily Sutton-Smith. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample.
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