Every time Gwen closed her eyes, she saw him in her nightmares. Now her eyes are open, and he’s not going away. Killman Creek by Rachel Caine is the second book in the Stillhouse Lake series.
I’m a huge Rachel Caine fan, and her Weather Warden series is one of the best urban fantasy series out there. I’m not at all surprised that she can crank out killer thrillers too.
A little background: in the first book, Stillhouse Lake, Gina Royal is a happy (or so she thought) wife to Melvin and mother of son Brady and daughter Lily—until a drunk driver crashes a car into their garage, revealing a dead woman. After she was cleared of any wrongdoing (nearly everyone thought she helped her husband in his grisly work), she packed up her kids, moved to Stillhouse Lake, and became Gwen Proctor. There, she hoped to get a little peace from the trolls that continually threatened her and her family. Well, of course, she didn’t, and here we are.
Now, Gwen, along with her friend (and hopefully more) Sam Cade—who is also the brother of one of Melvin’s victims—are on the run from her ex-husband, who has escaped from prison:
All I can think of is the shadow of a man walking through the night—walking, not running, because I don’t believe Melvin Royal is on the run, though half the police in the country are hunting him—and the fact that he is coming for me. For us.
My ex-husband is a monster, and I thought he was safely contained and caged, awaiting execution … but even from behind bars he ran a campaign of terror against me and my kids. Oh, he had help, some of it from inside the prison, some outside; how wide and deep it went is still in question, but he also had a plan. He maneuvered me, targeted fear and threats, into the place he wanted me: a trap we’d survived, but only just.
Melvin Royal stalks me in the brief darkness when I close my eyes. Blink, and he’s on the street. Blink, and he’s walking up the stairs of the motel to the second floor’s open walkway. Blink, and he’s outside the door. Listening.
By this time, Melvin has become more than a man. He’s now a larger-than-life monster. He’s gotten help from a group called Absalom—a vast online community ostensibly with the mission of exacting vigilante justice—and Gwen has been a target of theirs for a very long time. But she’s on her own mission now. When she finds Melvin, she’s going to kill him and free herself and her kids for good.
Speaking of her kids—now called Connor and Atlanta—they’re with a trusted friend, but it’s been a struggle for them too. Imagine finding out your father is a serial killer. Not only do they now know the man they loved is an abomination, but they’ve also been on the run ever since and haven't been able to put down any roots or make any friends. The lack of stability has clearly taken its toll. In this book, the narrative is told from the viewpoints of Gwen, Lanny, Connor, and Sam, and Caine does a great job of capturing the uncertainty of being a kid and the horror of being in this dangerous situation.
Lanny is coping better than Connor, and she’s worried about him:
I know something that my mom probably doesn’t: that Connor doesn’t really, really get why Dad is a monster. I mean, he does, but he was seven when our lives spun out; he remembers a father who was sometimes awesome to him, and he misses that. I was older. And I’m a girl. I see things differently.
Connor is a boy who wants the love of his father and has had trouble coping with their situation. Melvin is aware of this, and that’s dangerous. He knows his young son is a way in, and he’s been insidiously working himself into Connor’s life in order to get close to the rest of the family. Not physically but, well, you’ll see.
Gwen still struggles with trust—trusting others and having others trust her. She’s painfully aware that most people still think she helped Melvin kill those girls, and even with Sam—who believes her—that trust seems always balanced on a knife’s edge.
But I didn’t see a woman who covered up for a monster. Instead of Gina Royal—whom I’d never once met—I saw Gwen Proctor, a woman with a faint resemblance to that other person. Someone who had a full, human personality. Who treated others kindly, if a little guardedly.
That was when I realized that those Internet trolls I hung out with online, the ones who were trying to track her movements, competing to be more aggressive, more vindictive … they were wrong. Wrong about who she was. What she deserved. Wrong about her kids. What else had they been wrong about? Her role in the killings?
In their search for Absalom (with the much-needed help of an FBI agent), they uncover some horrible truths, but Gwen will do just about anything to get her hands on Melvin. Writing from multiple viewpoints is tricky, and Caine pulls it off masterfully. There are a lot of strands to this story, and she expertly weaves them together in time for a shocking finale. For readers that enjoy terrifying, fast-paced thrillers with meaty characters, this is a must-read.
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