City of the Lost by Kelley Armstrong

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City of the Lost by Kelley Armstrong

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Stephen Leach
Reviewed by Stephen Leach
Summary: A dark crime novel
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 480 Date: January 2016
Publisher: Sphere
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0751562521

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Detective Casey Duncan has a dark past, and it's about to catch up with her. When her best friend Diana is attacked by an abusive ex, the two women realise they have to disappear, fast. And they need sanctuary. Diana's heard of a hidden town that's so remote it's almost impossible to reach. A town that desperately needs a new detective.

Casey has barely arrived in Rockton when they discover a body. A man's been murdered - butchered - and there's no time to waste. Casey's job won't be easy: everyone in town has a secret. Meanwhile her boss, Sheriff Eric Dalton, is a brooding, troubled man who's hard to read and very hard to please.

With no chance of help from the outside world, Casey will have to rely on her own wits to solve the case. But she's running out of time. Rockton's killer is on the hunt, and this deep in the wilderness, no one is safe.

'City of the Lost' is one of those rare crime novels that could easily interest those who profess not to enjoy crime. The premise hooked me right away.

Being a genre that relies on stock characters and tropes, there's often not a lot of room to deviate when it comes to characters. Casey comes from the same mold as a lot of fiercely independent female detectives in crime fiction, struggling to move forward from a traumatic past. This conceit is used to its fullest effect, however: Armstrong comes back to it repeatedly, illustrating perfectly the way in which an event like that can affect someone for the rest of their life. While Casey puts on a good show of not being defined or affected by her past, there's a sense that she's still searching for absolution, as seen through her destructive habit of confessing the murder she committed to her therapists in an attempt to provoke a reaction from them.

Similarly, many of the secondary characters often start to feel like archetypes, but Armstrong's skill in writing her characters allows her to wring some depth from them. Dalton, in particular, started out seemingly as a caricature, but slowly became more and more interesting the more I found out about him, and I would have loved to have spent more time with some of the more minor characters. The inevitable love story was pretty predictable (that old chestnut of You two are screwing!, No we aren't! is always a sure sign that sooner or later things will develop) but because Armstrong takes the time to let us get to know both of the characters beforehand I found myself becoming more invested in it than I would have been otherwise.

The choice to set this story in a remote Canadian town in the wilderness is what really makes it work, though. There's a comparison drawn to the Wild West more than once, and the setting has a distinctly old-time feel about it while still being set in the present day. The realisation that all of the inhabitants of the town have something to hide amplifies the sense of tension – realistically, 'any' of them could be killers. Who would you trust in a situation like that?

The pacing is dead-on, too. Almost all of the chapters are short and sharp, with very few breaks – at no point did I feel like the action had slumped. This worked especially well considering the book's length, and kept me interested right up until the final page.

As with any good mystery, there's an incredible amount of detail to digest. 'City of the Lost' is intricately plotted, which had me constantly re-thinking my theory about who might have done it. Unfortunately the ending fell a little flat for me. I was slightly let down by the reveal of who the killer was because I felt one of the biggest pieces of the puzzle came way too late in the game for the reader to have figured it out on their own. Really good mysteries make you want to reread them as soon as you've finished, just to see how your foreknowledge influences your perception of the details the second time around. I can't see that happening with this one. That's not to say 'City of the Lost' didn't surprise me a few times – Armstrong manages to throw in some genuinely good twists.

The only other complaint I have about the ending is – well, the way it ended. In short, it's rather inconclusive, and left me thinking …wait, that's it? I suspect that this was done to set up a sequel. While understandable, I'd expected something a little stronger and felt slightly disappointed.

Overall, I quite enjoyed 'City of the Lost'. While crime isn't my favourite genre by any means, I'm interested to read other work by the same author. A solid three-and-a-half stars from me.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy for review.

For further reading, if crime's your thing I'd suggest reading Damaged Goods by June Hampson.

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