Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Book Review: 'The Forgotten Girls' by Owen Laukkanen

"The Forgotten Girls" are a sad subculture of runaways, drug addicts, prostitutes, alcoholics, and other lost souls, some of whom stow away on trains at great peril to their health and safety. Adding to their woes is a vicious and sadistic monster, who assaults, tortures, mutilates, and murders vulnerable females. He is pretty sure that the police will not expend much time and energy on these cases. The villain, nicknamed the "ghost rider," renders himself invisible until he suddenly reappears to claim another victim. Kirk Stevens (of Minnesota's Bureau of Criminal Apprehension) and FBI agent Carla Windermere, members of a joint task force, along with various other law enforcement personnel, brave the bitter cold of the Rocky Mountains to track down a savvy, resourceful, and elusive felon who is very much at home in his killing grounds.

Owen Laukkanen is a Canadian writer with a terrific feel for how setting can create a mood. He conveys the wind's biting chill, the snow's relentless assault, and the fear of succumbing to frostbite and exposure in such forbidding weather. We empathize with the misguided Mila Scott, a young meth addict who foolishly risks her life to avenge the slaying of a former friend. Mila, who has more spunk than common sense, has little money, craves a fix, and does not have to resources to tackle a hulking maniac. Meanwhile, Stevens and Windermere always seem to be several steps behind their quarry. They, along with others who assist in the chase, use helicopters, night-vision equipment, and heat sensors to find their target before he kills again, but they are woefully overmatched by a fiend with impressive survival skills.

This is a chilling but compulsively readable thriller about yet another lunatic who hates women (how often does this theme crop up?). Laukkanen keeps things real by showing that even experienced cops make mistakes in strategy and execution, villains may outsmart their antagonists, and innocent people do not always escape unscathed. Although "The Forgotten Girls" is violent, dark, and depressing, it is also a gritty, suspenseful, and engrossing work of fiction.

Editor's note: This review was written by Eleanor Bukowsky and has been reposted with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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