Review: City of the Lost by Kelley Armstrong

City of the Lost by Kelley ArmstrongCity of the Lost by Kelley Armstrong (Casey Duncan #1)

Genre: Thriller, Mystery

Publisher: Minotaur Books on May 3, 2016 (released in Canada January 2, 2016)

Source: Publisher

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My thanks to Minotaur Books for providing me with a digital review copy. No compensation was provided for this review, and all opinions are my own.

Casey Duncan is a homicide detective with a secret: when she was in college, she killed a man.

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This review can also be found at The Speculative Herald! Thanks to Lisa for inviting me to contribute.

City of the Lost is the first book in a new series from Canadian mega-author Kelley Armstrong; unlike the majority of Armstrong’s works, this book is a thriller without any obvious speculative elements. Set in the northernmost territory of Canada, the horror in City of the Lost comes not from the supernatural, but from the horrors people will commit when removed from the constraints of civilization.

To save her best friend Diana and escape her troubled past, homicide detective Casey Duncan agrees to an insane proposition: in exchange for her crime-solving skills (and a “small” fee, of course) Casey and Diana will be erased, disappearing from society into an off-the-map settlement called Rockton. A community of approximately 200 people, Rockton is a safe haven for those who need to escape. With no internet access, no electricity, and no marked location, Rockton truly is the city of the lost.

The setting of City of the Lost is so crucial to the story that it’s almost a character unto itself. Inspired by a family vacation Armstrong took to the Yukon, this novel showcases Canada’s stark northern beauty. Surrounded by the tundra and boreal forests, Rockton is a cross between a frontier town and a secret military base. Ostensibly run by Sheriff Eric Dalton, Rockton is essentially under martial law and at the mercy of the police force. But some of the recent additions to Rockton aren’t who they say they are…and the mysterious council that approves residency may have a more dangerous agenda than even the perpetually suspicious Casey could have anticipated.

It’s not long after Casey arrives in Rockton that she realizes the town and her new neighbors are much more than meets the eye. How does a remote northern community have such a steady supply of illegal drugs? Why does the borderline-puritanical Sheriff Dalton allow the operation of a brothel? And for such a small population, why has Rockton always had such a high murder rate? Casey will have to use all her detective skills and her killer instincts to crack this case, but the truth about the recent string of murders will change her worldview forever.

City of the Lost features a cast of compelling characters you can’t help but root for, despite the fact that none of them can be considered strictly “good people.” Casey especially struggles with the mistakes of her past and her penchant for vigilante justice. Sheriff Dalton cares deeply for the people of Rockton and the town’s success, yet he isn’t above police brutality to get the answers he needs. Our two leads aren’t the only morally grey characters, and Casey’s new, tenuous friendships with the residents of Rockton will be tested by the dark secrets she uncovers about their pasts.

Tense, unsettling, and tightly written, City of the Lost is Kelley Armstrong at her best. As a long-time fan who’s read more than 20 of her books, I feel confident saying that City of the Lost is Armstrong’s best book in years. If Armstrong’s work intrigues you but you’ve been intimidated by her multiple long-running series, then City of the Lost is the perfect place for you to start with her oeuvre. Recommended for fans of psychological thrillers, mysteries, and atmospheric novels.

Are you a fan of psychological thrillers? Would you be able to live in a remote, northern town? Let me know in the comments!

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  • Jolien @ The Fictional Reader

    This sounds absolutely amazing! I hadn’t heard of it before, but I’m definitely adding it to my to-read list. Great review!

    • Yay! Thrillers don’t normally appeal to me but i had to give it a try because I love the author’s other stuff. I hope you enjoy it Jolien, I thought it was amazing! 🙂

  • I haven’t read anything by her in aaaages

    • You’ve gotta catch up, haha! She always seems to be writing and publishing things constantly, she must have a very busy schedule.

  • I had no idea Kelley Armstrong wrote anything BUT supernatural stories! As soon as you mentioned the off the grid settlement, I knew this was going to be a story about a “safe haven” that is anything but safe!

    • You know, neither did I for the longest time! But one of her earliest series, the Nadia Stafford trilogy, is a thriller series…about a hitwoman. Clearly I need to read that too, haha!

  • This book sounds amazing. I haven’t read any Kelley Armstrong books ever, but this is one which definitely suck me in to reading. I mean, everything about it sounds good and don’t read enough mystery/thriller type books.

    I mean, a book about morally grey characters in a crazy off the grid town with no internet access (how do they cope?) and a lot of crazy crime happening sounds like an interesting enough book for my liking. You’ve convinced me, now I just need to invest in a copy.

    • Yessssss Becky, join the Armstrong fan club! I don’t read a lot of thriller books either (or any at all, usually) but this one was SO GOOD.

      Haha I know it’s shallow but the first thing I thought was “omg how do they make it without the internet???” My second thought was for fresh produce…yikes. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on this one, it really is a crazy story!

      • Okay, my local library has a copy I’m off on a library trip Saturday (scary because I’ve not been since they fitted the fancy new machines… so quite a while really). I will let you know all my thoughts.

        It is no way shallow to worry about how you survive without internet connection, it’s become a necessity in my life.

  • Greg Hill

    I love psychological thrillers and this sounds really good- almost like Wayward Pines without the sci fi elements. I definitely want to read this one now! The northern Canadian setting and morally grey characters- yes please! 🙂

    • I just checked out the trailer for Wayward Pines season one and you’re totally right, they have a very similar vibe! Also: I will definitely be checking out that show. It looks creepy and addictive…just like this book. 😉

      • Greg Hill

        Wayward Pines is great, although different from the books. And S2 starts late this month… I think?

  • The setting for this novel sounds really awesome. It reminds me of Whittier, AK — the remote Alaskan town that’s famous for almost all its citizens living in a single apartment complex. Anyway, I’m a huge fan of the sleepy-but-creepy small town trope. I’ll have to give this one a read!

    • Whoa that’s crazy! I’ve never heard of Whittier. As much as I like the idea of small towns, I think living in the same building as literally every other person in town would be too close for comfort, LOL.

      I think you’d really like this! 🙂

  • Is this book in any way related to The Masked Truth? Maybe it’s that snippet about how the setting was inspired by a trip to the Yukon, but I could swear I read that TMT took place there too, or in another town in far northern Canada. I still haven’t read that though, so I might just be confused, especially since both are in the thriller/mystery genre! 😛 This looks great too though, now I don’t know which to read first!

    • I haven’t read The Masked Truth yet (shame on me!!!) but as far as I know they’re totally unconnected, aside from the inspiration. I know both books were inspired by the same trip but from everything I’ve read online TMT is a standalone and doesn’t have any overlapping characters (unsurprising since it’s YA).

      I think you’ll be safe no matter which one you read first, but I bet you’ll be creeped out either way because Armstrong can write one hell of a thriller! 😀

  • Yay!!! I’m glad to see you enjoyed this one so much. It’s sitting on my TBR pile right now. I really need to get around to reading it but I have a couple of others I need to read first.

    • I pretty much always love Kelley Armstrong (although her recent YA high fantasy trilogy was a major let down, sad to say) but City of the Lost completely blew me away. It was SO gripping!

      I really hope you end up enjoying it, Samantha. I’m quire keen to hear whether you think it’s similar to Armstrong’s Nadia Stafford books, too!