Genre: Thriller, Mystery
Publisher: Minotaur Books on May 3, 2016 (released in Canada January 2, 2016)
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.She was never caught, but he was the grandson of a mobster and she knows this crime will catch up to her. Casey’s best friend, Diana, is on the run from a violent, abusive ex-husband. When Diana’s husband finds her, and Casey herself is attacked shortly after, Casey knows it’s time for the two of them to disappear again.
Diana has heard of a domestic violence support town made for people like her, a town that takes in people on the run who want to shed their old lives. You must apply to live in Rockton and if you’re accepted, it means walking away entirely from your old life, living off the grid in the wilds of Canada: no cell phones, no Internet, no mail, no computers, very little electricity, and no way of getting in or out without the town council’s approval. As a murderer, Casey isn’t a good candidate, but she has something they want; she’s a homicide detective, and Rockton has just had its first real murder. She and Diana are in. However, soon after arriving, Casey realizes that the identity of a murderer isn’t the only secret Rockton is hiding – in fact, she starts to wonder if she and Diana might be in even more danger in Rockton than they were in their old lives.
An edgy, gripping crime novel from bestselling writer, Kelley Armstrong, City of the Lost boldly announces a major new player in the crime fiction world.
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.