Review of Lost Girls – An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker

Lost Girls

I remember when the bodies were first found on Long Island, the numerous bodies of young women buried in the sand.  There was a serial killer or killers on the prowl and his/their dumping grounds had been discovered.  The media swarmed the story for a few weeks, doing what the media does best, generating fear and postulating numerous (often misleading) theories.

Then the story died.

The media, drawn to other bright shiny objects, moved on; leaving only the victim’s families to struggle to keep the issue alive in the public’s mind. What was a huge story at the time became a lingering memory for some.

Robert Kolker didn’t let the story die.  He wrote Lost Girls and the book is outstanding.

Kolker doesn’t follow the usual true crime format (Horrific crime scene, the investigation, the capture, the conviction.)  He starts off with a bit of a mystery, a young woman running door-to-door in the night claiming someone is after her, only to disappear into the darkness.  No crime…just darkness and a suspicious disappearance.

The author then takes you on an exploration of the lives of the young women who we presume are going to be found later on the beach in Long Island.  Their stories are extremely well presented, offering a dark glimpse into the creepy world of Craig’s List sex-for-sale.  These victims all had lives that were difficult and sometimes I felt as if they even blended together.  As a reader you develop a lot of sympathy for these girls before you even know their fates.

The upside of this book structure is that it was compelling.  The downside is that it begins slower than most true crimes.  Around the 50% mark the book shifts from the stories of the victims to the crimes, the discoveries of the bodies, and the strangely twisted community and characters where all of this blends together.  The pace becomes fast and churning, I was wantonly devouring chapters in the second half of this book – it was that good.

The author himself is drawn into this – which is something I understand.  I write books on cold cases and inevitably you too are sucked into the cases whether you like it or not.  As a true crime author I appreciated Kolker’s telling of his own digging and interviews.  I know from experience what it is like to be drawn into the story itself, regardless of your efforts.  Even this last week a tip came into me on a cold case I had written about.

The cold case subgenre of true crime doesn’t get a lot of books in it.  Writing about cold cases is hard because readers want some degree of ending or closure – just like the families of the victims.  Lost Girls is a great book and Kolker does a very good job of finding a stopping point where, in the real world, one doesn’t exist.  These cases remain open.  The families still suffer and grieve without knowing the full stories of what happened to their loved ones.

This book stirs you because you feel that there were genuine opportunities to solve this case that were bumbled by law enforcement and members of the community.

My daughter Victoria and I are starting on similar journey as Mr. Kolker on a new project.  I have to say he has set the bar fairly high for what we have to accomplish.

I give this book five out of five stars. Put it on your reading list.  It is not your typical true crime faire and will draw you in as it did me.

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