Minotaur Books, 416 pages, $25.99
I read “City of the Lost” on the heels of having read “Sweetbitter” and “My Brilliant Friend” by authors whose writing is extraordinary. Kelley Armstrong’s writing seemed too simple by comparison. It’s the part of reading that cannot be controlled: what came before. I’d like to think that I can shake off prior readings, but in the end I’m the sum of what came before. (That’s mostly a useful perspective.) Authors do not write in a vacuum and are themselves influenced by the same “what came before.” Still, Armstrong’s book suffered. Mea culpa.
Having said that, I will say that I looked forward to picking up "City of the Lost" each time to see what new twist Armstrong had crafted. After a slow start establishing her main characters, Casey and her best friend Diana, Armstrong picks up speed when both women arrive in a town hidden in the wilds of Canada’s Yukon Territory. They are running away from their pasts: Casey from having accidentally killed a man and Diana from her abusive ex-husband. The town of Rockton harbors a lot of secrets. Everyone is running away from something or someone. It’s a town that can only be entered if a secret council agrees that a person has legitimate reason to want to disappear from the outside world. That and a boatload of money to buy his or her way in.
Eric is the sheriff/mayor of the town and what he says goes. He has a deputy, but what he needs is a detective. Casey was a police detective in her former life, so she fits the bill. Several residents of the town may or may not have been murdered. They certainly disappeared … until bits and pieces of them are found in the woods. Is there a serial killer haunting the town? Is it one of the residents or one of the “hostiles” or “settlers” living independently out in the huge forest and mountains? Or are there critters, unimaginable monsters, living in the dense woods surrounding the town?
Armstrong knows how to put all the popular elements in her book: romance, mysterious women, suspicious-looking men, menacing horrors that lurk in the dark, and a tough protagonist and the conflicting relationships that pull at her.
“City of the Lost” is a long book and I admit to having just quickly scanned some sections; e.g., the potboiler romance and sex seemed obligatory rather than sincere and sometimes police work was summed up by "she interviewed several people." But I finished the book and my first thought was “summer read.” That sounds more derogatory than I mean it to be, because Armstrong really gets the pulse of popular fiction and she makes the most of it with a creative storyline.