In this taut psychological thriller, one woman hunts for the truth about the suspicious disappearance of a local girl in a small town, where everyone is implicated.
WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU VANISH FROM YOUR LIFE AND LEAVE NO STORY BEHIND? SOMEONE WILL MAKE ONE UP FOR YOU.
Clare is on the run. From her past, from her husband, and from her own secrets. When she turns up alone in the remote mining town of Blackmore asking about Shayna Fowles, the local girl who disappeared, everyone wants to know who Clare really is and what she’s hiding. As it turns out, she’s hiding a lot, including what ties her to Shayna in the first place. But everyone in this place is hiding something—from Jared, Shayna’s secretive ex-husband, to Charlie, the charming small-town drug pusher, to Derek, Shayna’s overly involved family doctor, to Louise and Wilfred, her distraught parents.
Did Shayna flee? Was she killed? Is it possible she’s still alive?
As Clare uncovers the mysteries around Shayna’s disappearance, she must confront her own demons, moving us deeper and deeper into the labyrinth of lies and making us wonder what it is she’s really running from. Twisting and electrifying, this is a get-under-your-skin thriller that will make you question what it means to lose yourself and find yourself in the most unlikely places.
Still Mine With the moonless sky, Clare doesn’t see the mountains closing in. But then the road begins to rise and she knows she’s driving through the foothills, then come the switchbacks and the hum and pop in her ears, and finally the peaks and shadows, blank spots in the ceiling of stars. By dawn the mountains crowd the long vista of her rearview mirror, she is deep among them, and Clare guesses she’s covered nearly six hundred miles since sunset.
Drive west into the mountains, Malcolm said. Then cut north to Blackmore.
Clare climbs one last hairpin turn before signs of life pepper the roadside, peeling billboards first, then a scattering of ramshackle buildings. Her car lurches and revs, the ascent of this narrow road too much for its old engine. She passes a sign hammered right into rock: WELCOME TO BLACKMORE: POPULATION 2500, the word zero spray-painted across it in black. The road flattens out and Clare reaches the row of storefronts that marks the town proper. Most of them are shuttered with plywood, the main strip devoid of cars and people.
Beyond the lone stoplight Clare finds the motel. She turns in and parks. Weeds grow through cracks in the asphalt, the motel L-shaped and bent around an empty swimming pool, its neon sign unlit. The barrenness washes over Clare, eerie and surreal, like a movie set built and then abandoned. Panic cuts through her, a grip tight around her chest, the coffee she’d picked up at a gas station hours ago still whirring through her veins.
The folder Malcolm gave Clare sits on the passenger seat. She flips it open. On top is a news article dated ten days ago: “Blackmore Woman Missing Since Tuesday.” Next to the text is a grainy photograph of a gaunt and unsmiling woman named Shayna Fowles. Clare examines the photo. They are roughly the same age, their hair the same deep brown, their skin fair, alike in certain features only. Is she imagining the resemblance, imposing herself on this woman?
This is your job, Malcolm said. You will go to Blackmore. See what you can find.
The car fills with the dampness of the outside air. Clare leans back against the headrest and closes her eyes. She thinks of Malcolm across from her in that diner booth, sliding the folder over to her, his own meal untouched. She had wanted only to get away from him, and Blackmore was the option on offer. Now she must gather herself up, muster the nerve to introduce herself to strangers, tell them her name, or at least the name Malcolm chose for her. Clare grips the dewy handle of the car door and lifts her backpack. Though she hasn’t worn her wedding ring in months, her finger still bears its dent.
Time to go.
At the motel reception Clare rings the bell once, then again when no one comes. She can hear the muffled din of a TV. Behind the desk the room keys hang in a neat row. Black mold snakes around the windows and patches the carpet in the corners.
“Hello?” Clare’s voice barely rises above a whisper.
Nothing. In her exhaustion, Clare cannot decide what to do next. At dawn, she’d pulled in to a lakeside rest area, walking straight past the picnic tables and the outhouse, wading thigh deep into the lake, catatonic, transfixed by the vast, jagged landscape of snow-peaked mountains. A foreign land. She’d hoped to take a warm shower. Malcolm told her about this motel. Clare slams her hand down hard on the bell.
The door at the far end of the office opens. A man in his sixties peers through, wiping his mouth with a napkin.
“We look open to you?” He tosses the napkin over his shoulder.
“The door was unlocked.”
The man is gray haired and rosy cheeked. An old family portrait hangs on the wall to his right, a younger version of him the beaming father to two red-haired boys, his hand resting proudly on his pretty wife’s shoulder.
“If the rooms are still standing,” Clare says, “maybe I could just—”
“I’ve never seen you before,” he says.
“I’ve never been here before.”
“You a reporter?”
“No. I’m not a cop. I’m just here to see the mountains.”
“I take pictures.”
“Pictures. Of what?”
“Landscapes, mostly. Anything off the beaten track.”
“No one around here likes getting their picture taken,” he says, his voice flat.
“Like I said. Landscapes. Not people.” Clare pauses. “Is there another place in town I could stay?”
Clare gropes through her bag for her car keys. Just arrived and already she’s failed at her first task. This motel might have been busy once, when Blackmore was still a bustling mining town, when there were jobs for everyone, money to go around, people to visit. Maybe this man’s sons had been miners. Maybe they were underground five years ago when the mine blew up and killed three dozen of Blackmore’s men. Clare detects a slight softening in the motel owner, his shoulders relaxing. He peels himself off the wall and approaches the desk.
“We had a bad melt in the spring,” he says. “All twenty rooms flooded. I’ve barely had a customer in months. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t help you.”
“There are plenty of mountain towns. You could pick another one.”
“I could,” Clare says.
Already her story feels like too much of a ruse, arriving in Blackmore alone and unannounced. On the drive she’d anticipated the questions the attendant just asked of her. Who are you? Why are you here? She’d rehearsed her answers. She and Malcolm had been hasty in picking photography as her cover, the one skill in her thin repertoire now ringing false on delivery. The attendant walks around and props the door open to usher her out.
“Turn around,” he says. “Drive back down the hill. That’s my advice.”
Clare retraces her steps to the car. The mountains are cloaked in low clouds, Blackmore’s main road fogged from view. She hears the bolt of the office door behind her. Clare knew full well the reception here would be cold. She grew up in a small town beset by the same woes as Blackmore. She remembers the way her neighbors closed rank when strangers turned up, all prying eyes unwelcome. Who knows what the motel owner sees when he looks at Clare? Maybe he knew Shayna Fowles, maybe his sons were friends with her. Maybe it rattles him, one woman gone missing and another turning up out of nowhere, a stranger in his midst.
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This reading group guide for Still Mine includes an introduction, discussion questions, and a Q&A with author Amy Stuart. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
When Clare orchestrates an elaborate escape from her abusive husband, she has no idea where to go or what she’ll find. She just knows she needs to disappear and never look back. But when her path leads her to Blackmore, a small mountain town devastated years ago by a tragic mine explosion, her dark past comes rushing back.
The daughter of the foreman blamed for the blast, Shayna had a troubled marriage and struggled with drug addiction. Most of the community assumes she’s dead. But Clare’s not ready to give up on her. Posing as a photographer, she sidesteps the suspicious, tight-knit community and sneaks her way into Blackmore’s dark underbelly. Risking her own addiction demons, she turns over every stone: the ex-husband, the ruthless drug dealer, the territorial father, even the town doctor.
Along the way, Clare is forced to confront the secrets she left behind. But is she willing to expose everything in order to uncover the truth about Shayna?
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Before sending Clare into Blackmore, Malcolm Boon hastily decides that her alias will be O’Dey, meaning “servant” or “maid.” Discuss the significance of this name. What do you think Malcolm meant by it? And was he right in this choice? Why or why not?
2. As she immerses herself in the little mining town, Clare is forced to think back on past “versions” of herself. There is 19-year-old Clare, happy and on the cusp of adulthood with her best friend, Grace. There is the married Clare, close to broken at the bottom of her cellar steps. Which version of Clare do we see at the beginning of the book? At the end? How are they different?
3. Blackmore is both strange and utterly familiar to Clare. She empathizes with the cold nature of the tight-knit community, even as they ruthlessly keep her at bay. Do you think that empathy is ever returned? When, and why?
4. Shayna writes that her mother, Louise, believes that tragedy can alter a constitution. But Shayna thinks otherwise. She posits that there is a core in each of us that can never be changed; it separates the good from the bad. Whose side do you think Clare would take? Why?
5. Clare momentarily envies Louise’s dementia as Shayna’s case brings on a wave of overlapping memories. She even relapses. But what is the cost of oblivion or sedation as a coping mechanism? Who do you think suffers more, the confused Louise or the very lucid Wilfred?
6. Clare revises history to imagine a world in which she had stayed in art school, or had forced Jason to hold their dead baby in his hand. Discuss the role of regret in the novel. How much do you think one decision can alter a life?
7. Framed pictures and photography figure heavily into Clare’s quest. At one point, she studies a picture of Shayna with Jared, Sara, and Charlie, and wonders whether they are less “friends” and more “characters in her story.” What does she mean by this? Do you think she feels this way about Grace Fawcett or her brother, Christopher?
8. If, as Clare surmises, Shayna left a “hole” or a “vacancy” in the town of Blackmore, she is not the only one. What other holes did you see widening? And how did these characters go about filling them?
9. Before she succumbs to cancer, Clare’s mother tells her that no matter what, she needs to keep moving forward. In Blackmore, Clare feels lost in “the empty distance between nowhere and here.” Does that change? If so, at which point does that forward motion begin?
10. When Jared finally tells Clare what happened in the mine, he claims that it’s “hard to blame the dead for anything.” Discuss the scene he describes, and the interplay of grief and blame. Are they necessarily inseparable in this case? Why or why not?
11. Derek has a very personal attachment to addiction. He watched his mother die of alcoholism and believes that her death resulted from a lack of will. Wilfred, of course, believed he could force his own will on his struggling daughter. Where does Clare, now (relatively) clean, come down on recovery? Do you agree with her?
12. Malcolm Boon drives Clare crazy. She feels that he is the only person in the world who really knows her, even as she fails again and again to decode him. Discuss their relationship. Is Malcolm manipulative? Or protective? Is this a mutually beneficial partnership? Why or why not?
13. Based on her writings, what perspectives did Shayna gain from her time in the mine? How do you think they will affect her future, now that she has survived similar traumas to Clare?
14. Jason, an omnipresent threat throughout the novel, becomes all too real when he sends Clare flowers. In that final note, he emphasizes that her loved ones are more than willing to let her be forgotten, even as he promises never to forget. Unpack this threat, so carefully threaded between loving words. Can Clare ever truly escape him? How?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Clare’s brother, Christopher, taught her how to shoot a camera and develop real film, an endangered practice. Plan a group exercise in which everyone contributes a favorite shot (digital or otherwise) to critique and discuss. What perspectives can you gain from looking through each other’s lenses?
2. Still Mine has been compared to Jessica Knoll’s Luckiest Girl Alive, another thriller in which the protagonist must take on a new identity in order to escape her dark past. Read this title next and compare the two heroines.
3. Domestic abuse is threaded throughout Still Mine, and sadly remains a very pervasive threat in our culture. Organize a screening of HBO’s documentary Private Violence to learn more about ways to stop it.
4. Consider volunteering together at your local halfway house or rehabilitation center to support recovering addicts seeking help.
A Conversation with Amy Stuart
What was the inspiration behind the story of Still Mine?
I keep a file of interesting news pieces, and a few had been swirling around my brain as possible novel ideas, including one about a woman who vanished after wandering away from a family picnic and into the woods. When I set out to write a thriller, I took that premise and a few characters I’d been dreaming up and mashed them together to make Still Mine.
What kind of research was involved in writing this book? What would you say was your most valuable resource?
The internet can be a most handy place, but books are still my go-to learning tool. My research for Still Mine was all about authenticating the different elements of the story. I spent time reading about mines and mining towns so that one thread of the story would seem at least plausible, if not to a mining engineer, then at least to most readers! I also read many case studies by or about women who face similar difficult circumstances to Clare. The most important thing for me was to avoid making any assumptions.
You first began writing this novel in 2010 during a novel writing contest – how has the final version of Still Mine changed from its original inception? What was the revision process like for you?
I now see the writing process as layering, as creating depth. The first draft was fundamentally the same story, but it took several more drafts to really dig deep, to give the characters more motivation, more humanity or rationale, to carve out the setting and to add more turns to the plot. I’ve learned that revision is the core of writing, and I’m the sort of writer who requires many (many!) drafts to get to the story close to what I had in mind when I started.
The setting is the most vibrant part of this book — what made you choose to set the book in the mountains?
Writing a thriller was new territory for me, so I figured setting it in distant landscape was fitting. I live in a city and my family trips were always east to the ocean, so mountains still feel pretty unfamiliar. I find them so beautiful, but also stark and disconcerting, even a little lonely. I liked the idea that it would feel like a really foreign place to Clare too.
How do you balance being a teacher, mother, and writer?
Not terribly well! It comes down to asking people around you for help, and I’m lucky to have a support network to rely on. I learned early on that if I was going to find time to write, I had to treat it like a job and not a hobby, something I had to do so it wasn’t always the thing that fell by the wayside when life was busy. Balancing all three means I don’t have much time for anything else, since I’m often up early writing or spending the few free hours on the weekend at the library. When it feels overwhelming, I try to remember that all three of these gigs - teacher, mother, writer - are a privilege, and I’ve had a lot of good fortune in each. So I try not to complain.
Who are your biggest literary influences?
There are many writers whose works have filled me with awe and/or writer's envy. Some include Alice Munro, Ian McEwan, Dennis Lehane, Joan Didion, Stephen King, Toni Morrison, and more recently, Emily St John Mandel, Jessica Knoll, Zoe Heller and Gillian Flynn. When I was in high school, my dad gave me his old Langston Hughes poetry collection that I still keep on my desk. There was such a quiet economy to everything Hughes wrote.
Why do you choose such dark topics to write about?
For the most part, I think I’m a pretty optimistic person, but I’ve also been a worrier my entire life, and writing always provided an outlet for that worry. It helps me make sense of the world around me. And I’ve learned that in mystery and thrillers, writers need their characters to be facing adversity, and there’s not a lot of adversity in a charmed life. So the darkness becomes necessary to the plot.
What do you think the future holds for your characters beyond the ending of the book? Where will we find Clare next?
I am working hard on the sequel to Still Mine. The second book starts a short time after the first one ends. Clare is in a different place, both literally and figuratively, and even she can’t be totally sure how she got there. Also, things change between her and Malcolm... I’ll say no more!
Amy Stuart’s debut novel Still Mine was an instant national bestseller. Nominated for the Arthur Ellis Best First Novel award, and winner of the 2011 Writers’ Union of Canada Short Fiction Competition, Amy’s writing has previously appeared in newspapers and magazines across Canada. Amy lives in Toronto with her husband and her three sons. Still Water is her second novel. Visit her @AmyFStuart.
Still Mine [has hoisted] Stuart into an exciting new generation of Canadian thriller writers that includes Shari Lapena, Ausma Zehanat Khan, Iain Reid, and Elizabeth de Mariaffi.
– Sue Carter, editor of Quill and Quire
"Stuart is a sensitive writer who has given Clare a painful past and just enough backbone to bear it."
– New York Times
“The cliffhanger will have you continuing to bite your nails until there’s a sequel.”
– RT Reviews
“Twisty and swift, Amy Stuart’s Still Mine is a darkly entertaining mystery machine. But what will really surprise you is the emotional foundation on which it has been built.”
– Andrew Pyper, bestselling author of The Demonologist and The Damned
“Still Mine delivers all the nail-biting moments of a fast-paced thriller and filters them through the eyes of girl-with-a-past Clare O’Dey: deeply flawed yet instantly recognizable, O’Dey is a noir detective hero for a postmodern age. Author Amy Stuart sends one missing woman out to look for another one, and the result is chilling. You’ll find yourself turning the pages faster and faster.”
– Elisabeth de Mariaffi, author of The Devil You Know
“An intricately woven thriller.... You’ll want desperately to solve the mystery not only of the missing Shayna, but of Clare O’Dey, Amy Stuart’s heartbreaking heroine, on the run from the darkest forces both within and without—and you’ll have a hard time forgetting the everytown of Blackstone and its scheming, desperate inhabitants.... A vivid and haunting debut.”
– Holly LeCraw, author of The Swimming Pool
“A haunting treasure of a book that burrowed its way into my psyche as I read it.… Not since The Silent Wife have I been rendered so powerlessly riveted by a psychological thriller. I can’t wait to read what Stuart writes next.”
– Marissa Stapley, author of Mating for Life
“From its evocative opening to its heart-pounding conclusion, Still Mine is a gripping mystery that I felt desperate to solve. Amy Stuart paints a vivid picture of the stark mountain town, Blackmore, and the cast of shadowy characters who inhabit it. A tense and absorbing read.”
– Lucy Clarke, author of The Blue
“An impressive debut, rooted in character rather than trope, in fundamental understanding rather than rote puzzle-solving.”
– The Globe and Mail
“A gripping page-turner, with a plot that takes hold of you and drags you through the story at breakneck speed. The characters are compelling, the setting chilling and the suspense ever-present. Add to that, Stuart has an ability to tap into the dark psychology behind addiction and abuse, and to bring these complex struggles to life in a way that stays with you for days.”
– Toronto Star
“Complex characters, serious themes, an intricate plot and captivating writing make the page-turner difficult to put down.”
– Huntsville Forester
Praise for STILL WATER
“Riveting, twisty and full of tangled secrets…. A stay-up-all-night read. Impossible to put down!”
– Karma Brown, bestselling author of In This Moment
“Instantly captivating, mysterious and relevant—Amy Stuart has done it again!”
– Marissa Stapley, author of Things to Do When It’s Raining
“The tension in this book is sharp enough to cut. A pervasive sense of dread and danger flows through Still Water as Clare struggles to unravel both the secrets in front of her and the ones she thought she left behind. If you liked Still Mine, you'll love Still Water.”
– Tyrell Johnson, bestselling author of The Wolves of Winter
“As swift, intense and vengeful as the river it describes, this book is a must-read. Secrets swirl in the deep of Still Water, Stuart’s gripping new thriller of loss and refuge. With a gallery of characters on the run, the pages beat and churn like an aching heart.”
– Roz Nay, bestselling author of Our Little Secret
“Complex characters with gut-wrenching backstories propel this twisty mystery toward its shocking conclusion. I was engrossed!”
– Robyn Harding, bestselling author of The Party
“Utterly compelling and intriguing, Still Water is a very clever whodunit with a most appealingly vulnerable protagonist. My husband thought I was ignoring him while I was reading this book. I wasn’t. I just forgot he existed because I was so engrossed. Warn your families before you pick up this book.”
– Liz Nugent, bestselling author of Unraveling Oliver
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