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City of the Lost by Kelley Armstrong

Reviewed by Wendy Hawkin

This is my first foray into Kelley Armstrong’s work, and I am SO impressed. I’m not sure how I missed her. Armstrong is a fellow Canadian, and a New York Times bestselling author. Her novels range from crime to teen fantasy/par­anormal to modern gothic. Armstrong lives in southwestern Ontario, and might look like the girl next door, but she straddles the dark side and her imagination is pure edge.

City of the Lost is a crime thriller; the first in the Casey Duncan Series. This book has everything I need: a frontier town teeming with flawed characters, a kick-ass female detective, buckets of suspense, and a secret northern setting that appeals to my “I long to live in a cabin” dream. (Except for the cannibals, or whatever it is, that’s lurking in the woods fifty feet beyond the back door). Casey has two possible love interests: Deputy Will Anders, a handsome ex-military man (the nicest guy in the world), and Sheriff Eric Dalton, a bush cowboy, who is as comfortable on a horse as on an ATV. He’s rugged, real, and raw; a man of few words, but each is intelligent and true.

First-person present tense doesn’t usually agree with me, but I’m so far inside Casey’s head, I don’t notice. I’m living each moment with her as she unravels, not only the serial murder case, but the mysteries behind her workmates: Dalton and Anders. She is intelligent and bold, a risk-taker who stands up for herself, and others; even those who might not deserve it.

Armstrong’s writing is clear and pithy. “We reach the cave. The opening is a gash in the rock, maybe three feet wide by eighteen inches high.” I race through 465 pages in a few days because I want to know where this is going. There’s no sentiment or obvious word-wrangling, but Armstrong’s poetic voice surfaces in her ability to direct the reader’s experience via sensory images and detail. Her straight-forward dialogue suits each character down to the expletives, and is skillfully under-painted to draw you inside each nuance of sexual tension or tricksy conversation. A pause is not just a pause; a kiss is not just a kiss. And Rockton is not just any old northern city.

Hidden in the Yukon, the City of the Lost has been engineered for folks who need to escape society for various reasons including white-collar crime. It’s off the radar; invisible from the air. Seventy-five percent of the town’s populace is male, which makes being a female in Rockton rather tricky. Everyone has secrets and no one is who they appear to be. Some folks have even lied about their past to get through the screening process. (They don’t accept murderers and rapists.) So, when people begin to disappear, Dalton recruits Casey to sort through the chaos. I won’t tell you why she agrees to go, or what she discovers in the end, but it’s a story worth knowing.

City of the Lost is published by Random House.

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