These two satisfying thrillers follow more of Gwen Proctor and her family, which still comprises her teenage son and daughter and now adds a trusted male friend and love interest. If you remember from my recent reviews, she fights vicious Internet trolls and stalkers at every turn, thanks to her ex-husband, convicted serial killer Melvin Royal. 

In each of these two books, Gwen and the crew head out of town to solve an investigation. Stillhouse Lake still figures in each, but the locations vary, the cast of characters grows, and twists are unique. I still struggle with her kids, too. Every time they foreshadow behaviors, I want to scream, ‘No … don’t do that!’ But teens will be teens, and Caine portrays what most parents feel about that.

In the third book of the series, Wolfhunter River, Gwen gets a phone call from a woman she doesn’t know. In short order we find out the woman is dead, and her daughter is charged with the crime. Although at first Gwen doesn’t want to get pulled in, this inevitably happens and the whole crew goes along for the bumpy ride. Caine takes us into the seamy side of small, rural towns. She might as well put a sign up that says, “Trust No One.”

By the end of Wolfhunter River, Gwen is working as a private investigator and Bitter Falls focuses on an assigned case. But Caine masterfully ties the two books together and integrates plenty of elements from the first two books. Gwen and her kids may never escape the nefarious deeds of her ex and their dad. In a very real and non-supernatural way, he and his followers truly haunt them. It’s so visceral that I sometimes felt haunted as I read.

My conclusions

While I read Bitter Falls, I saw the press release about Rachel Caine’s passing from cancer. I’m just terribly sad that I waited so long to read her work. Although a fifth Gwen Proctor book is planned, I wonder what will happen.

Aside from this sadness, I thoroughly enjoyed these books. They capture you and wrap you close. Reading them nearly straight through distracted me and motivated my morning walks in my neighborhood. Caine develops her characters and their relationships, so I felt like part of her dysfunctional, ever-threatened family. Her villains are creepy but not over the top. I also appreciated the integration with cult experiences, since that’s a real-life topic I regularly explore.

This is a strong and exciting thriller series. Read it when your life seems overwhelming, because Gwen’s is always worse. That is, unless … well, telling you would be a spoiler.

Pair with the poetry of Mary Oliver, who lived in bucolic country spaces entirely different from Wolfhunter River and Bitter Falls. Or try them with an inspirational read like You Are Awesome by Neil Pasricha.