The Forgotten Girls
THE FORGOTTEN GIRLS is yet another example of why Owen Laukkanen has been on my must-read list since the release of his debut novel. His pairing of Minnesota BCA agent Kirk Stevens and FBI agent Carla Windermere gets better with each outing, and this newly published title is the best of the lot to date, with Laukkanen combining suspense, extreme danger and an exotic setting to create another winner in the series.
Laukkanen takes Stevens and Windermere outside of the familiar environs of Minnesota and into a hot pursuit that leads across the northern reaches of the United States, and beyond. The impetus for this change of scenery is the discovery of the partially decomposed body of an initially unidentified young woman. The corpse is found in Idaho, which is outside of the geographic purview of the task force that Stevens and Windermere head up. However, a postmortem photo of the victim winds up on the smartphone of a Minnesota tractor salesman.
"[T]his newly published title is the best of the lot to date, with Laukkanen combining suspense, extreme danger and an exotic setting to create another winner in the series."
I have to stop and note that Laukkanen brilliantly injects a technological plot point here, demonstrating that, while the police procedural mystery genre is vintage and venerable, technology in all its forms will continue to provide the seasoned dog with new tricks. Laukkanen does so here in a manner that most readers will never see coming.
Once Stevens and Windermere discern how the photo appeared where it did, they are ultimately able to identify the victim, “Ash,” a runaway who was known to hop rides on the dangerous and deadly High Line train route that runs along the top of the United States. During the course of the investigation, the pair learns that their unfortunate victim is only the latest in what appears to be a series of heretofore unconnected murders occurring near or by the train route.
Meanwhile, Mila Scott, a young woman who was a friend of Ash, has decided that she is going to seek revenge on the killer on behalf of all the murders that can be laid at his doorstep. She begins to engage in a bit of amateur detective work of her own, utilizing her contacts among the loose society of train hoppers who linger and lurk on the edges of mainstream society. She does this even as the killer strikes again and again, picking and choosing victims whom he believes no one will ever miss. Stevens and Windermere --- and Mila --- move closer to him, while putting themselves in ever-increasing danger. Matters play out abruptly and violently in an unexpected place, where the killer, running out of options, continues to take as many victims as he can, for as long as he can.
THE FORGOTTEN GIRLS is set in a world that most people rarely contemplate, other than when the gates do down at a railroad crossing. It’s a dark side of life, one that Laukkanen shines a stark light upon while never forgetting the humanity of those who make up that world. He ratchets up the suspense along the way as well, taking an unexpected player or two off the board before story’s end.
Fans of mystery and thriller fiction will not want to miss reading THE FORGOTTEN GIRLS or, for that matter, any of the previous installments of this consistently terrific series.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on March 17, 2017