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CITY OF THE LOST by Kelley Armstrong: Book Review

In the far north of Western Canada, there’s a refuge for those who have to flee their normal lives.  When Casey Duncan, a police detective in Ontario, first hears about this place from her close friend, Diana Berry, she’s disbelieving.  It’s another urban legend, she thinks.  But as things go from bad to worse for herself and Diana, she investigates and finds that such a town does indeed exist.

For five thousand dollars each, Casey is told, she and Diana can move to Rockton if they pass inspection.  They have to prove why they’re compelled to leave their current lives and move to the secret place, a location so totally off the grid that there’s no plane service, telephone lines, or Internet.  The people who live in Rockton must contribute their skills to the town–as cooks, medical personnel, storekeepers–or whatever the community needs at a given time.  As it turns out, at the moment it needs a detective.

Casey’s main reason for moving to Rockton is to get Diana away from her physically abusive husband Graham.  Time and again Graham has assaulted Diana, and each time she swears that she will never go back to him, but she does.  Indeed, she and Casey had moved from one city to another after a previous beating, hoping to leave him behind.  But Graham has found her again, and this time Diana says she’s made the final decision never to return to him and thus is desperate to leave no trail behind her for him to follow.  Casey, too, made a bad decision in the past that continues to haunt her and keep her in danger.  So Casey puts up the ten thousand dollars necessary for both of them to start new lives, hoping they can start over.  But can they?

For a town of two hundred people, there’s a lot going on.  The morning after Casey arrives, the body of a man who had been missing for a week is found.  The corpse was in the forest, a place Rockton people know better than to visit.  The sheriff, Eric Dalton, tells Casey that the council, a mysterious group that controls the community from outside and makes the decisions about who gets in and who doesn’t, sometimes is swayed by monetary factors.  Although people who’ve committed violent crimes aren’t supposed to gain admittance, they sometimes get through if they have enough money.  Harry Powys, the name the deceased was using in Rockton, had obviously bribed his way in.  His crimes, brutal as they were, are matched by the manner of his death.  He was dismembered, and Eric believes Harry was alive when it was done.

The people who live in this community are a varied lot, but of course they all have one thing in common–whatever they did or had done to them in the outside world didn’t allow them to stay there.  An ex-soldier who killed his commanding officer while the latter was asleep, a physician blamed for two deaths, several women fleeing abusive relationships, those are reasons for coming to Rockton.  But now it’s becoming clear that more than one person is living there under false pretenses, that the story he or she has been telling others about the reason for being in Rockton isn’t the true one.

Kelley Armstrong has written a taunt thriller with believable characters.  Casey Duncan is a terrific heroine, devastated by what she did years earlier but determined to be strong now for herself and her friend.  But her strength alone may not be enough to stop the carnage in their new home.

You can read more about Kelley Armstrong at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.