I enjoy Kelley Armstrong’s writing – see my review of Omens here. So when I saw City of the Lost on the library shelves I scooped it up.
Casey Duncan once killed a man and got away with it. Since then she’s become a talented police detective, tethered only to her job, her best friend, Diana, and the occasional evening with her sexy, no-strings-attached ex-con lover, Kurt. But then Casey’s own dark past begins to catch up with her. The two women need to run—and Diana’s heard of a place where they won’t be found, a town especially for people like them…
One of the prerequisites for a really successful murder mystery is an enclosed community where the murderer and the victim are necessarily interacting with no way of leaving once the deed is done. Which is why the country house week-end killing was one of the staples of the early whodunits – it ticked all those boxes and gave the reader plenty of opportunity to get to know all the guests and discover guilty secrets and hidden antagonisms. In this setting – an isolated community set hundreds of miles away from modern civilisation in the wilderness – Armstrong sets up the same backdrop for her crimes, though they are a good deal less genteel than Colonel Mustard in the library with the poker.
Does it work? Oh yes – I really liked the concept of this secret town with the hard-pressed sheriff, which also has echoes of America’s Wild West past when the rule of law was overseen by one man and his deputy. But while the setting may hark back to a historical past, the protagonist certainly doesn’t. Casey is half Filipino-Chinese, with a troubled past. She has always been the outsider, never quite belonging and her only friend is Diana, who also has her own problems. Casey is also a police detective and is immediately drafted in to assist the very grumpy sheriff who has a suspicious death and a missing person to contend with.
As the story gradually spools through the possible suspects, with a variety of other crimes thrown into the mix, we get to know Casey a lot better. For despite the story being told in first person pov, Casey takes some time to fully warm to. I liked that. In the days of protagonists emoting all over the place, it was a refreshing change to have a protagonist who doesn’t often show her feelings. Alongside the increasingly dire situation – think Midsomer Murders’ body count – there is a growing romance that also steadily gathers momentum throughout the book. While I generally don’t object to a romantic sub-plot, it is never the reason why I’ll pick up a book, so I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed watching this relationship unfold. I also very much enjoyed the major plot twist that explains exactly why the sheriff is perpetually bad tempered and unable to move away.
However, in order to really work, the denouement has to have plenty of drama and shock value. Despite the fact that I’d guessed who one of the main perpetrators was before the main unveiling, this still was a successful climax to the story, which Armstrong brought to a strong conclusion leaving a couple of dangling plotpoints so she will be able to resume this series in due course.
All in all, this is an enjoyable, slickly written book with plenty going on and an engaging, appealing protagonist. If you like classic murder mysteries with plenty of drama and an unfolding love story, then track down this book.