Repression, Obsession, Murder

Authors of suspense novels can utilise true-crime podcasts as props since they can reawaken interest in long-cold cases.

An exquisitely written yet disturbing novel about a life coming apart due to a case that won’t die, that’s what Jessica Chiarella’s THE LOST GIRLS (Putnam, 336 pages, paper, $17) does.

Maggie Reese, Marti Reese’s older sister, vanished 20 years ago when she stepped into a stranger’s automobile and was never seen again. When the story begins, Marti has just recovered from a new trauma: the discovery of a corpse that appeared to match the description of her sister but was, in fact, someone else, thanks to DNA testing.

Marti has produced a six-episode podcast with her friend Andrea to discuss the case. That brings her to Ava Vreeland, a woman with a fascinating lead: The same Chicago area Marti grew up in saw the death of a second woman, Sarah Ketchum, seven years earlier. Her brother was convicted of the murder, but Ava feels he is innocent and that the real culprit is still at large.

Do these incidents have a common denominator? Was there a critical piece of evidence in Sarah’s death that was overlooked by the police? In the midst of her self-destructive rage, why didn’t Marti return to her innocent husband Eric?

When the novel starts out slowly, with a dark mood and a dark character, it quickly picks up speed and throws in new details, like a speaker who starts to speak faster and toss in new details as his time runs out. As Chiarelli goes deeper into obsession and psychopathy, the fate of Maggie gets lost in the shuffle (and don’t get me started on Ted, Ava’s spouse).

Perhaps Marti has secrets of her own to conceal. This kind of behaviour should not be tolerated, she asserts, because “we are capable of the things we have done.”