City of the Lost | Kelley Armstrong | 2016 | Sphere | 480p | Review copy | Buy the book
Rockton is no ordinary town. Hidden away within the Canadian forest, it can only be reached by plane. It has a population of only 200 people and there are no children. Nobody can live there without invitation – and detailed scrutiny – by the town council, a body that itself does not live in the town. Rockton is a place to go when you have a secret to hide, when you need a place of escape or refuge, when you need to disappear. All inhabitants must work for their food and lodging. Life is simpler with no contact with the outside world. But Rockton has a problem. Its murder count is far higher than one would expect from such a small population. Not everyone who ventures into the surrounding forest returns alive. Rockton needs another detective.
Casey Duncan is just what Rockton needs. A talented and dedicated detective, she has no desire to leave her job and disappear but the past – the man she killed – is catching up with her. Casey’s closest friend Diana also needs to disappear urgently to escape a violent ex-husband that cannot be shaken off. Within days Casey is working alongside Detective Dalton, Rockton’s much admired but grumpy and self-reliant police chief. Casey’s timing couldn’t have been better. The latest murder victim is waiting for her the day she arrives.
City of the Lost intrigues from the outset, even before we’re swept away to the richly-evoked lost woody world of Rockton. Casey’s narrative draws us in immediately as she tells her new psychologist exactly what happened to her several years ago on that life-defining night. From that moment on, Casey has our full attention and we’re right behind her when she arrives at this strange town, inhabited by even stranger inhabitants. There’s a Wild West feel to Rockton. It sets its own laws and they’re needed. Some of the people who ran to Rockton to hide have more secrets than is good for them. All new arrives are issued with a new surname but there are other things less easy to disguise – a taste for murder, for example.
I really enjoyed getting to know Rockton and its people. Kelley Armstrong writes with such a strong sense of place. Everywhere is so vividly described – the houses, bars, police station as well as the woods themselves. The deaths are also laid out in detail and so there is a fair bit of blood and gore to clash with the green of the forest.
We know that people are not who they seem to be and so much of the fun of the novel comes from unwinding their past lives. There are plenty of twists and surprises and, although I guessed some, I didn’t guess them all. The character of Dalton is wonderfully presented as he and Casey slowly get to know one another. It’s clear from the outset that a romance is inevitable. I did find this rather too intrusive in places, particularly during the final third, slowing down what had been a compelling hunt before resulting in a rather rushed conclusion. Nevertheless, City of the Lost is an immersive, atmospheric mystery, beautifully written, with such an intriguing setting, populated by some fascinating and unusual people.
Originally published as a series of ebook novellas and now combined seamlessly into one, City of the Lost is, I believe, just the first book to feature Casey Duncan. This is good news – more to come!