Courtroom 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.
Barnes & Noble Guide to New Fiction
A #1 bestseller in Canada, this first novel takes readers into dangerous territory as an attorney finds himself drawn into a bizarre legend connected to two lost girls and a town's shameful history. "Off to a roaring start, with good courtroom scenes and a rich portrayal of rural Canadian life." "The flawed, but ultimately appealing, protagonist consumes enough cocaine to give this reader a contact high."
New York Times Book Review
.......a good Mystery read for summer; praised as an elegant debut
novel ... takes a brilliant turn into psychological terror.
Summer Reading issue June 4, 2000 issue)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Toronto resident Pyper's spell-binding debut succeeds on so many levels--as a mystery, a legal thriller, a literary character study--that's it's obvious why it was a #1 bestseller last year in Canada. Breathing new life into a modern cliche, the lawyer in need of redemption, the narrator and proudly unlikable main character is do-anything-to-win Toronto attorney Bartholomew Crane, who is assigned the "lost girls" case by his firm, Lyle, Gederov (colloquially known as "Lie, Get 'Em Off"). Two schoolgirls are missing and presumed drowned in Lake St. Christopher, in the outback of Murdoch, Ontario. The man accused of their murder is one of the girls' teachers, Thomas Tripp. Crane quickly discovers that Tripp is uncooperative and seemingly insane, blaming the girls' disappearance on the legendary ghost of a woman who drowned 50 years ago in the lake. Since there's little more than circumstantial evidence against Tripp, Crane is initially confident that he can get the man off. But that confidence dissolves as he immerses himself in the case and the history of the region. Pyper uses Crane's almost vicious self-awareness to chart the crumbling of his self-image as he binges on cocaine, goes stir-crazy in the rural town, and confronts a long-repressed tragedy from his past that bears on the case. As Crane's devastating history unfolds, it's revealed how he became such a shark; as he accepts the truth about himself and his desperate need to solve the mystery behind the ghost story, his fundamental character is illuminated-gradually, with the same restrained suspense that makes Pyper's ingeniously tight plotline so compulsively appealing. BOMC/QPB featured alternate. (May) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
In a small Canadian town, two 14-year-old girls are missing and presumed drowned. Toronto attorney Bartholomew Crane arrives to defend Thom Tripp, the girls' English teacher, who is accused of first-degree murder. At first the egocentric, caustic Crane doesn't care about the truth--he just wants to get the job done. The more he probes, however, the more he comes across the legend of the Lady in the Lake, who drags her victims down to the watery depths. Disturbing visions and voices unnerve him. Once he faces his own grief-stricken past, he emerges as a likable human being. Debut novelist and lawyer Pyper writes his murder mystery in a Tom Wolfe style of luxuriant hyperbole, portraying outrageous yet believable characters. His fast-paced present tense is well suited to the antic, first-person narrative of the coke-addicted Crane. Patrons may have to wrest a copy from librarians dipping into this Canadian best seller during lunch hour. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/00.]--Molly Gorman, San Marino, CA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
"This extraordinarily mature and fully realized first novel brilliantly
grafts familiar bits and pieces into a stunning and original whole:
courtroom scenes from a half-dozen best-sellers; the creepy ambience of Dean
Koontz filtered through Rod Serling's Twilight Zone; and even a bit of
unwelcomed-outsider paranoia we recall from the Spencer Tracy classic Bad
Day at Black Rock. Most memorable, though, is the character of the narrator
Crane, who undergoes one of the most complete yet credible moral
metamorphoses in recent fiction. A debut to remember and a real treat for
crime-fiction fans" - Wes Lukowsky
Boston Globe Book Review
"This is a first novel that has done very well in the author's native
Canada. It deserves to be widely read in the States as well." - Robin W.
Wicks, The Boston Sunday Globe
Canadian author Pyper's highly successful first novel (a huge bestseller Up North) is a teasing mystery that blossoms into a nailbiting courtroom drama, seasoned with a carefully measured soupçon of the supernatural. The story begins with a beautiful bit of misdirection: a terse `prologue` that shows a teenaged boy and girl, who are cousins, `making out` in a canoe, which tips over, with disastrous results. The reader assumes (only half-correctly) that this incident is linked to the occurrence that brings burnt-out attorney Bartholomew Crane to the drab Ontario town of Murdoch, where two popular high-school girls have disappeared, and are presumed dead, at the hand of their English teacher (and secretive companion): `Barth's` sullen client Thomas Tripp. Crane's efforts to defend the uncommunicative Tripp (to whom circumstantial evidence points damningly) lead him to interviews with both missing girls' fathers (one a smiling blank, the other a vengeful religious zealot), the town's well-informed head librarian-newspaper editor, and a forthright old lady, Helen Arthurs, who fills Crane in on a weird local legend: the story of `Murdoch's Loch Ness Monster,` a distraught mental patient (and war refugee) who, having lost custody of her children, drowned in a nearby lake, and has since purportedly `returned,` to `take` other people's children, to replace her own lost ones. Inevitably, there's a mystery in the brooding Bartholomew Crane's past, which Pyper connectssmashinglywith the several mysteries of Murdoch, as the novel drives toward its (truly) surprising conclusion. Lost Girls borrows an important (though, to be fair, not crucial) plot detail from PeterStraub's GhostStory, and its case is weakened by a single glaring improbability: the ease with which everyone here assumes the missing girls' deaths, though no bodies are in evidence (it seems more than just possible they might be runaways). No matter. Pyper quickly builds, and skillfully maintains a full head of increasingly suspenseful steam, and keeps the reader off balance, and hooked, throughout. In its best moments, a Canadian Anatomy of a Murder. A savvy, stylish, and very entertaining debut.
Read an Excerpt
There is nothing more overrated in the practice of criminal law than the truth. Indeed it's something of a trade secret among professionals in the field that the facts alone rarely determine the outcome of a trial. What's overlooked by the casual observer is the subtle distinction between the truth and the convincing of others to accept one of its alternatives.
Allow me to make reference to current events:
Later today I'm expected to complete the defense's case in a sexual assault trial where the facts are clear and they all disfavor the position of my client, a Mr. Leonard Busch. To make matters worse, counsel for the prosecution is as skillful, determined, and ambitious as yours truly. A constipated-looking young woman whose eyebrows form a piercing V when she speaks and whose every word vibrates with accusation, qualities that contributed to the splendid job she did in her exam-in-chief of the complainant. When the tears started in the middle of the girl's recounting of the night in question my opponent stepped helplessly toward the witness box, leveled a vicious glare at my client, and shushed the girl with "It's all right, Debbie. You don't have to look at him," while at the same time stabbing a trembling index finger at my man Lenny. It was a beautiful move: theatrical, maternal, prejudicial. The effect was so damaging that I was tempted to leap to my feet and make an objection against what was so obviously a purely tactical maneuver. But in the end I remained seated, met the prosecution's eyes with what I hoped was a look of indignation and held my tongue. It's important at such moments to remember one of the first rules of successful advocacy: sometimes one has to accept small defeats in the interest of capturing the final victory.
But victory for Mr. Busch (and more important for his lawyer, Bartholomew Christian Crane) did not appear to be an imminent outcome of the trial. In fact, as the Crown's evidence was paraded plainly before the court, the prospect of an acquittal seemed a fading likelihood unless our defense could come up with an ace. Nothing short of a miracle would do, judging from the set faces of the jury who, although thoroughly screened to exclude socialists, feminists, and those who believed O.J. did it, knew a bona fide creep when they saw one. So as I raise my head from the pillow and blink my eyes open to the abusive light of a Toronto September dawn. I search my mind for a savior for the otherwise doomed Leonard Busch.
And nothing comes to me. But this is not unusual, given the time of day. The left ear buzzes, the right ear hums, my brain swollen inside its skull. Roll my head from side to side and let the whole mess slosh around. It's on occasions like these (i.e., the beginning of every day) that I thank God I live alone, for the fact is I find it difficult to tolerate close contact with others under the best of circumstances, and utterly impossible before nine. This may have to do with my particular habits and addictions, or it may not. But no matter if I've been drinking the night before or sipping herbal tea (if I ever have sipped herbal tea), I have woken with hangover symptoms every morning since I started practicing law. That was five years ago. Waking up in a state of physical and mental suffering is simply a side effect of my vocation. And just as the butcher endures his bloody aprons or the garbageman his stinking fingers, I have learned to live with it.
I raise myself stiffly from the white expanse of a singly occupied king-size bed and scuff over to the kitchen counter where, piled into a crystalline white anthill, my inspiration sits. Reduce its mass to a circle of powdery residue in two sinus-burning whiffs and with this I am able to swiftly conclude that the only chance Leonard has is Lisa, the accused's eighteen-year-old girlfriend.
Leonard Busch himself is fifty-two, barrel chested, butter nosed, and the owner of Pelican Beach, a nightclub located in a former auto parts warehouse stuck beneath the cement buttresses of the Gardiner Expressway next to the harbor. It's one of those hangar-size places that boast "coed" beach volleyball in February, wet T-shirt contests in April, and Ladies' Night every Tuesday (a free rose and half-priced tequila until midnight, at which point the "ladies" are in generally good enough shape to be hauled back to a stranger's futon). Leonard ran the whole vile affair from his office suspended above the dj booth with mirrored windows overlooking the seething dance floor. It was there that he conducted his business, where business means the counting of receipts, the consumption of Ballantine's on the rocks, and the interviewing of girls seeking waitress positions. Early evidence from a number of them indicated that Leonard took these opportunities to ask questions of dubious purpose ("Are you wearing any underwear right now?") and to squeeze bottoms in the interest of determining the applicants' qualifications.
All of these details, however unseemly, were not of any particular concern to me. But Leonard's fondness for plying certain female staff with liquor, taking them for early morning drives down to the docklands, and heaving himself on their half-comatose bodies was substantially more troubling from a legal perspective, especially given that one of his dates came forward the next day and insisted that Leonard Busch, her employer and friend ("At first I thought he was kinda sweet"), had taken his pleasure with her without her consent. Indeed, as she testified, she would've been unable to voice her permission even if she'd wanted to, as her brain had been made so mushy with booze, she could only slap her palms against his back and try to remember the names of the teddy bears in her old bedroom at her parents' house.
Shower, shave, stick a hastily assembled margarine sandwich into my breast pocket for the rare moments that hunger visits, and head up Spadina and over Queen Street to the courthouse. The air is unseasonably chilly but I only half notice, concentrating instead on the approach to take with dear little Lisa. More stupid than the prevailing standard among mall vixens of her vintage, she was not only foolish enough to be Leonard's sole long-term lover, but to be in love with him as well. Attended every day of the trial, finding a place in the back row and trying to make eye contact with her beloved every time he rose to be shackled and led away to his cell. Initially I thought the girl might be a potential asset to our case, but when asked about it, my client dismissed the idea.
"Forget it. She's fuckin' nuts. Besides, my wife don't know about her," was Leonard's exact phrasing.
It wasn't clear to me how Mrs. Busch would be more upset over the disclosure of a mistress than the conviction of her husband as a rapist, but I said no more about it.