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From Barnes & NobleCourtroom Thrills, Supernatural Chills
A major bestseller in Canada, Andrew Pyper's Lost Girls is a strikingly original first novel that crosses genre boundaries with ease and assurance. It starts out as a conventional legal thriller with all the standard trappings -- a sensational murder case, a sleazy, anything-for-a-dollar defense attorney -- and then evolves in unexpected directions. Somewhere along the line, Lost Girls leaves Scott Turow country behind to become both a deeply unsettling supernatural thriller and a meditation on guilt, fate, alienation, and the power of repressed memories.
The narrator -- and sleazy lawyer at the heart of the novel -- is Bartholomew ("Call me Barth") Crane, a junior member of the firm of Lyle, Gederoff, and Associate, generally known to the legal community as "Lie and Get 'em Off." When we first encounter Barth, he is wrapping up his latest triumph by convincing the girlfriend of an accused rapist to provide her boyfriend with a false alibi. After neatly engineering a last minute acquittal, Barth returns to his office to find his latest assignment awaiting him: a murder trial involving two teenaged girls who have been missing for weeks and are now presumed dead, murdered by their high-school English teacher.
The "Lost Girls" case is the stuff of tabloid headlines, and the trial the sort that can make -- or break -- a legal career in a single stroke. To Barth and his associates, it looks too good to be true. The Crown's case against accused teacher Thomas Tripp is weak and unconvincing. There are, after all, no bodies and therefore no conclusive proof that the murders have occurred. The majority of the case is founded on supposition, circumstantial evidence, and ambiguous forensic details. Reasonably sure of a quick, decisive victory, Barth heads for the remote Northern Ontario town of Murdoch, bringing his primary source of inspiration -- a large stash of high-grade cocaine -- with him.
Once in Murdoch, the tone of the narrative abruptly darkens, and reality itself grows fluid and uncertain. The mood of the town is restless, edgy, and violent. Barth's client seems utterly disconnected from events and is unable -- or unwilling -- to cooperate in his own defense. Tripp claims to hear voices in his head and appears to believe that the power behind the girls' disappearance is a long-dead woman known, in local legends, as the Lady in the Lake.
The nameless Lady was a European refugee who came to Murdoch with her two daughters in the aftermath of World War II. An odd, alien presence, she was eventually separated from her children, incarcerated in a local asylum, and subjected to a mandatory hysterectomy. In time, she escaped from the asylum and returned to Murdoch, where her strange ways and blatant sexuality inflamed the populace, who came together in an impromptu lynch mob and chased her into the icy waters of nearby Lake Saint Christopher, where she drowned. Legends concerning the Lady and her posthumous activities have persisted for nearly 50 years, and more than one resident believes she is the animating force behind the town's latest tragedy. Before too long, Crane comes to believe that, too.
The bulk of Lost Girls recounts the haunting -- and the incremental disintegration -- of Bartholomew Crane. Ensconced in the honeymoon suite of the town's only hotel, Barth endures recurring nightmares, bizarre apparitions, and otherworldly encounters. The Lady and her teenaged victims appear before him at odd moments. An endlessly ringing telephone disrupts his sleep, and disembodied voices whisper vague, unspecified accusations in his ear. Barth, typically, responds to these assaults by increasing his already prodigious cocaine and alcohol intake. As reality fractures under the combination of internal and external pressures, Barth comes to understand two things: that the Lady in the Lake is real and that he himself is connected to her ongoing drama through a traumatic, long-buried incident from his own past.
Barth Crane is a complex, caustic, memorably nasty creation, and his gradual confrontation with his own hidden history occurs against a haunted, surreal backdrop that Pyper evokes with impressive, almost effortless authority. By any standards, Lost Girls is a remarkable first novel, one of those rare debuts in which style, setting, character, and theme come seamlessly together, creating an enthralling -- and convincing -- narrative whole. Andrew Pyper, a young Toronto attorney with talent to burn, has made an indelible impression his first time out, and I hope his book receives the same degree of success and acclaim in America that it recently received in his native country. Lost Girls is the real thing, and I urge you to give it a try.