#Review: Heartbreak Bay, by Rachel Caine

Under ordinary circumstances, I’d not have let Heartbreak Bay sit on my unread shelf for as long as it did. Unfortunately, as it turns out, this is Rachel Caine’s last book; she passed away from cancer last November, and this is her final new release. She does have one series that I haven’t touched yet, her fifteen-book (!!!) Morganville Vampires series, but … vampires. I am not a fan of vampires.

(I will likely get to them eventually, honestly, but not soon.)

One of Caine’s biggest strengths as an author is her ability to jump genre; the first series I encountered her through was urban fiction, and a lot of her books are tinged with the supernatural in some way, but her work has ranged from alternate history to rewriting Shakespeare to genies to zombies, and this series, which started with the absolutely superb Stillhouse Lake back in 2017, is pure contemporary adult thriller. And the series is scary as hell— the first one fucked me up something fierce, and while this one doesn’t push my Daddy Buttons as effectively as Lake did, it’s still probably the scariest thing I’ve read this year.

(And, uh, while it’s true that this book doesn’t push my buttons quite the same way as Stillhouse Lake, it does begin with an infanticide, and the story is about chasing down a serial killer, so, maybe a trigger warning is appropriate here? Probably, right?)

The story, before I forget: the series’ main character is Gwen Proctor, a mother of two who found out in the worst way imaginable that she was married to a serial killer. By the time the fifth book rolls around, her ex-husband Melvin is dead and her kids are both in high school, and she’s … well, not quite remarried, but certainly in a new stable relationship. She’s working as a PI and still occasionally fending off Internet trolls and stalkers who are either actual fans of her ex-husband or believe that she was involved in his killings and got away with them. Watching Gwen’s paranoia and sharp edges slowly get sanded off over the course of the series has really been interesting, and the character development here is excellent. The book bounces back and forth between her perspective, her partner Sam’s, and her best friend, a police officer named Kezia, as the infanticide that starts off the book turns out to have inexplicable connections to Gwen’s past, and assisting Kezia in solving the murders coincides with another spike in stalking and harassment. The whole book is effectively tense and creepy, and as is usual for one of Caine’s books I read it in a couple of big gulps. There’s not necessarily a Big Twist At the End, but there are a couple of moves the plot makes that I didn’t expect, and the ultimate villain of the story is … let’s say memorable and leave it at that. It’s good stuff, not that I didn’t know it would be before picking it up.

One thing I say a lot about reading is that I am never, ever going to get to a point where I run out of books to read. I don’t ever criticize anyone for not wanting to read anything, because we all have limited time, and while there’s not literally an unlimited number of books, as far as my human lifespan and my human amount of free time and processing ability go, there might as well be. But it’s super bittersweet to think that I’ve read a book or two a year by her since 2003 and that unless I get into this series that I suspect I’m not going to be into, there won’t be any more of them after this one. It made me put off reading it for a while, because I didn’t want to be done with Rachel Caine books and now I am. If you haven’t read Stillhouse Lake, I wouldn’t read Heartbreak Bay without working through the series, but the whole thing is worth a read, and if this has to be the last of Caine’s books I ever read, at least she went out on a high note.

RIP, Chadwick Boseman

I took a moment last night, before I told my wife what had happened, to hold my breath and double-check that the news of Chadwick Boseman’s death wasn’t a cruel fucking hoax. I found out on Twitter, which is where I find out when anyone dies nowadays, and it was amazing how my timeline went from whatever it’s usually about to 100% Chadwick Boseman in a matter of two or three minutes.

I don’t know what I would have said yesterday if you’d asked me how old I thought he was. I’m weird about celebrities; I tend to assume that anyone who isn’t obviously a teenager is older than me even if that doesn’t quite make sense. Chadwick Boseman was 43; a little bit over a year younger than me. And he has been battling colon cancer for basically as long as I’ve known he existed. And no one knew about it.

He had colon cancer while he was filming Captain America: Civil War and Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame and three or four other movies that I haven’t seen and no one knew about it. There were some recent pictures circulating where he’d clearly lost an unhealthy amount of weight; I hadn’t seen any of them, and whatever speculation might have been floating around never crossed my radar, so this was a bolt out of the blue.

It hit me harder than I might have guessed it would, and my head was all over the place to the point where I took one of my emergency Bad Brain Day pills before going to bed. Just one more way in which 2020 has been awful. This will be all my students want to talk about on Monday, too, and I feel terrible for my black students in particular, who have just had one of their genuine heroes torn away from them.

… he had cancer the whole fucking time, guys. I can’t wrap my head around that. The whole. fucking. time. And he’s younger than me. And no one even knew he was sick.

I just … I still can’t cope with it. Fuck this. Fuck cancer, and fuck 2020, and fuck cancer again.

Rest in power, sir.

Fuck cancer

(A note, before I begin: there is going to be a nonzero number of you who know me in Real Life and also knew Becky. Her parents, who I know, and sister, who I really don’t, are on Facebook and have been monitoring her page. She followed Luther, but was not friends with his account. If her family sees this, they see it, but I would appreciate it if no one goes out of their way to bring it to their attention. I am, as will probably become clear pretty quickly, writing it for me, not for them, if that makes any sense. Thank you.)

Becky Arney died yesterday. She used to pull my hair in fifth grade, and now she’s gone.

She was two months younger than me, and had been fighting cancer for nine Goddamned years. She spent most of the last month of her life in the hospital until her family finally decided she’d had enough and brought her home.

Nine damn years. The cancer started off as a small-cell cervical cancer that, as far as I ever understood, had a five-year life expectancy just north of “you’re kidding, right?” and she managed nine years. I think it was actually liver failure that got her in the end; the cancer was in remission for a while but then popped up in a bunch of other organs and that was the essential body part that gave out first.

The biggest problem I’ve ever had in my life is being able to see my feet past my ample fucking gut and this badass bitch got handed a life where she had to beat the shit out of cancer on a daily basis for nine fucking years in her thirties and forties. And frankly she did not lead the sort of life prior to getting cancer that was going to lead to gold-plated health insurance, either. She worked in the arts. She worked in prop design. I can only imagine the extent of the medical bills.

She was my first real crush, in fifth grade. If you look at my fourth grade yearbook there’s one particular girl whose picture I drew a green box around, but I don’t remember anything about falling for her. My unrequited thing for Becky lasted two or three years, at least. It was a Thing for a While. She knew; I’m sure she did. There was one particular field trip in sixth grade to a museum in Chicago where she spent the whole day letting me take her picture next to dinosaur bones and then sat behind me and intermittently pulled my hair the whole way home. She knew. By high school we were friends; we drifted apart when I left for college and then reconnected via Facebook just after I moved home and got married.

The last time I saw her, I was with my wife and son at Bob Evans, of all the goddamn places, and she just happened to be there with her grandmother. It was the only time she ever met my son; my wife was a couple of years behind us in high school so they already knew each other. When I killed my personal Facebook account, she didn’t send Luther a friend request, but she continued to follow the page, and I got updates from my wife.

She lived with her grandmother after she got sick. Imagine that. Imagine being old enough to be a grandmother to someone in their forties and you eventually have to bury them. I can’t do it.

There is not going to be a funeral, which is good, because I am generally not good at funerals at the best of times and I think there’s a good chance that “absolutely everyone from high school is there!” will not qualify as The Best of Times. She was that person who had every single person from our graduating class she could find and a sizable number of the kids from within a couple of years of us on her friends list. The eventual “celebration of life” that her obituary alludes to will be a de facto high school reunion. I have already skipped three high school reunions. I don’t know that I can make myself go to this one. We’ll see.

I’m not old enough to have to be writing this shit yet. She wasn’t old enough that I should have been writing this about her. She should have been raising the kids she never got to have, or doing whatever else the hell she wanted to do if she didn’t want to have kids. I can only assume that a cancer diagnosis at 33 can tend to alter your plans.

I used to tell people that I wasn’t really scared of anything, other than blindness, which was my greatest fear for most of my life. But for the last few days, which have been spent mostly restraining the urge to ask my wife to check Facebook again to see if her family has posted any updates, I’ve gotten this cold sort of existential horror in my gut every time I’ve looked at my son. Because apparently I’ve reached the age where people my age start dying of fucking cancer and so that’s a thing I need to start worrying about. About leaving him behind, before either of us is ready. About, hell, something happening to him. Because she was young, but it ain’t like cancer is especially discriminating, now, is it? And it’s not like this has been unique to the last few days– she had had cancer for two years before my son was even born, and one thing every parent becomes familiar with very quickly after their first child is born is the notion of their own mortality.

(This is what I meant when I said I was writing this for me, by the way.)

I don’t know. I don’t have a cute or clever way to end this, so I’m just going to stop writing.

Fuck cancer.

#Bowie

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