Where would you go if you suddenly had to disappear? In Kelley Armstrong’s City of the Lost, there’s an isolated small town in the Yukon that provides such a sanctuary, hidden away by the forest and essentially self-sustaining. Casey Duncan, a detective who has killed a man, is less interested in escape than in ensuring that her best friend Diana is safe from her abusive husband. The town’s sheriff Eric Dalton needs a detective, so the town council agrees to take Diana on if Casey comes along.
A departure from Armstrong’s usual paranormal thriller, City of the Lost is a fairly straightforward murder mystery, a locked room puzzle in a town where everyone has a troubled past. There are shades of political intrigue, the possibility that the town council accepts bribes to allow dangerous criminals into town, and the threat of “hostiles” living in the surrounding forest. There is also a drug angle, with the mild-mannered town pharmacist allegedly suppling residents with a more potent version of a popular drug. And there is a series of murders with rather disgusting markers such as internal organs hanging from a tree. It feels very much like a big city police procedural, except with small town friendships and the added danger of the wild.
Armstrong can always be counted on for a good story, and City of the Lost is a solid example of that. It had a lot of good points — the romance was hot and I absolutely love that Casey is half Filipino-Chinese. This may sound like a backhanded compliment, or worse, condescending that I’m making a big deal of it, and I really don’t mean it to be. It’s just that I never really expect to see characters like me in popular fiction, so it’s always a thrill when I do. And it’s an even bigger thrill when the character is awesome like Casey is, and when her being Filipino-Chinese isn’t at all integral to the story, when it’s simply a throwaway piece of description, because it shows how effortless it can and should be to incorporate diverse characters into literature. Armstrong has always been great at having diverse characters, and I love that about her work.
I’m a huge Kelley Armstrong fan, and perhaps that’s why this novel fell somewhat short of my expectations. The mystery was good, but the search for the killer wasn’t quite as gripping as I’d hoped. I knew there was danger in the town, and the danger had turned somewhat personal with a character I liked getting killed, but the mystery somehow lacked urgency. I wasn’t flipping the page as fast as I could to get to the bottom of it. Contrast that to her earlier work The Masked Truth where I stayed up late to finish it, or the Cainsville series, where I was so intrigued by the mythology she’d created that I wanted to keep reading more.
The characters as well were likeable, but not so memorable that I absolutely need to read more of their stories. Armstrong creates good characters and her Women of the Otherworld series in particular is an example where her characters veritably crackle off the page. I didn’t quite get that crackle in City of the Lost, and in fact, when Casey was going on a rock climbing trip with a new close friend Petra, I had to flip back to remind myself who Petra was. Their first meeting confused me as well — Petra was part of a group that Diana had gone with to a bar, and while Casey initially seemed put off by the group, agreeing with Eric that they were the popular party kids Diana should probably avoid, she then becomes very good friends with them herself. It’s possibly a case of first impressions being a mistake, but the change in Casey’s perception seemed to have happened within the same page, which confused me.
All this to say that City of the Lost is a good book, just not as amazing as I look for in a Kelley Armstrong story. Perhaps I just prefer her paranormal fiction, or perhaps, as this is the first book in a series, Armstrong is still feeling out her characters and setting. Still, it’s a solid mystery thriller, and it’ll be interesting to see how the concept of this town will play out in future instalments.
Thank you to Random House Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.