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City of the Lost by Kelley Armstrong

A review by Nalini Haynes

Detective Casey Duncan’s best friend Diana is attacked by her abusive ex then Casey’s lover is shot in an attempt on Casey’s life. Diana tells Casey that there’s a town to which they can escape to hide, the City of the Lost. Initially skeptical, Casey eventually succumbs and even negotiates with strangers to help Diana gain entry.

It’s not a city, it’s a town of about 200 people located in a fly-in, fly-out zone in the Canadian wilderness, surrounded by deadly wildlife that wants to EAT YOU. The majority of the town’s inhabitants are men. Of the few women, most are sex workers, causing problems for the women who don’t want to sell sex.

The town needs Casey because there’s a serial killer on the loose but the senior lawman is obstructive, testing Casey’s skills more than helping her investigation.

After reading some of Kelley Armstrong’s romances and young adult fantasies, I thought I knew what to expect. However, Armstrong has broken out, writing an excellent thriller with a strong female detective and no elements of fantasy. As always, I looked for flaws and — at a stretch — came up with one or two minor details. (A scavenger dragged a piece of meat deep into a cave system and abandoned it without obviously eating it.) Armstrong understands this genre, writing an excellent mystery/thriller.

At one point a character talks about detective stories and how, after the big reveal, the clues are there all along. Armstrong avoids the fourth wall while getting meta in a highly entertaining segment foreshadowing the big reveal. I confess I didn’t see Armstrong’s villain coming but, once all was revealed, the clues were there, just like in the characters’ conversation.

The fly in the ointment of City of the Lost is in the handling of a violent relationship unrelated to the murders. Armstrong understands the psychology of violence but this relationship development is a bit extreme and victim-blaming. And yet it was clever. I’m ambivalent.

Armstrong delves into sexual politics, relationships in normal society and in frontier towns with her excellent understanding of humanity revealed in her characters.

City of the Lost is a gripping detective thriller story with sinister overtones as a larger plot emerges. Although City of the Lost is a stand-alone murder-mystery/thriller, I anticipate sequels. I highly recommend City of the Lost.

Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars
ISBN: 9780751562521
Format: paperback, 352 pages
Publisher: Sphere (Hachette)
City of the Lost: a silhouetted figure looks at a lighted glen in a dark forest

Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.


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