The Girl Who Was Taken

The Girl Who Was Taken

by Charlie Donlea

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The Girl Who Was Taken by Charlie Donlea

Two abducted girls—one who returns, one who doesn’t.
The night they go missing, high school seniors Nicole Cutty and Megan McDonald are at a beach party in their small town of Emerson Bay, North Carolina. Police launch a massive search, but hope is almost lost—until Megan escapes from a bunker deep in the woods. . . . A year later, the bestselling account of her ordeal has made Megan a celebrity. It’s a triumphant story, except for one inconvenient detail: Nicole is still missing.
Nicole’s older sister, Livia, a fellow in forensic pathology, expects that one day soon Nicole’s body will be found and her sister’s fate determined. Instead, the first clue comes from another body—that of a young man connected to Nicole’s past. Livia reaches out to Megan to learn more about that fateful night. Other girls have disappeared, and she’s increasingly sure the cases are connected.
Megan knows more than she revealed in her book. Flashes of memory are pointing to something more monstrous than she described. And the deeper she and Livia dig, the more they realize that sometimes true terror lies in finding exactly what you’ve been looking for . . .
“A fast-moving page-turner. . . . Donlea skillfully maximizes suspense by juggling narrators and time all the way to the shocking final twists.”
—Publishers Weekly
“Well worth the read.”
“Donlea’s sophomore effort is solid. He keeps the reader guessing and second-guessing until the end, thanks to an expertly crafted abundance of potential suspects.”
—Library Journal

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780786041442
Publisher: Kensington
Publication date: 03/27/2018
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 73,630
Product dimensions: 4.10(w) x 7.30(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Charlie Donlea was born and raised in Chicago. He now lives in the suburbs with his wife and two young children. Readers can find him online at

Read an Excerpt

The Girl Who Was Taken

By Charlie Donlea


Copyright © 2017 Charlie Donlea
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4967-0101-5


September 2017

Twelve Months Since Megan's Escape

Why forensic pathology?

It was a question asked of Livia Cutty at each of her fellowship interviews. Generic answers might have included the desire to help families find closure, the love of science, and the craving to tackle the challenge of finding answers where others see questions.

These were fine answers and likely given by many of her colleagues who were now in fellowship spots just like her own. But Livia's response, she was certain, was unlike any of her peers'. There was a reason Livia Cutty was so sought-after. An explanation for why she was accepted by every program to which she had applied. She had the grades in medical school and the achievements in residency. She was published and came with sterling recommendations from her residency chairs. But these accolades alone did not set her apart; many of her colleagues possessed similar résumés. There was something else about Livia Cutty. She had a story.

"My sister went missing last year," Livia said at each interview. "I chose forensics because someday my parents and I will get a call that her body has been found. We will have many questions about what happened to her. About who took her, and what they did to her. I want those questions answered by someone who cares. By someone with compassion. By someone with the skill to read the story my sister's body will tell. Through my training, I want to be that person. When a body comes to me with questions surrounding it, I want to answer those questions for the family with the same care, compassion, and expertise I hope to receive someday from whoever calls me about my sister."

As the offers came in, Livia considered her options. The more she thought, the more obvious her choice became. Raleigh, North Carolina, was close to where she grew up in Emerson Bay. It was a prestigious and well-funded program, and it was run by Dr. Gerald Colt, widely considered in the world of forensics as a pioneer. Livia was happy to be part of his team.

The other draw, although she tortured herself when she considered it, was that with the promise of performing 250 to 300 autopsies during her year of fellowship training, Livia knew it wasn't outside the realm of possibility that a jogger somewhere might stumble over a shallow grave and find the remains of her sister. Every time a Jane Doe rolled into the morgue, Livia wondered if it was Nicole. Unzipping the black vinyl bag and taking a fast glance at the body was all it usually took to dispel her fear. In her two months at the OCME, many Jane Does had entered her morgue, but none left under the same anonymous name. They had all been identified, and none as her sister. Livia knew she might spend her entire career waiting for Nicole to arrive in her morgue, but that day would stay somewhere in the ether of the future. A moment suspended in time that Livia would chase but never catch.

Capturing that moment, though, was less important than the chase. For Livia, perusing a fictitious time in the future was just enough to lessen her regret. Soften the edges so she could live with herself. The hunt gave her a sense of purpose. Allowed Livia the feeling that she was doing something for her younger sister, since God knew she hadn't done enough for Nicole when her efforts could have been noticed. Vivid dreams of her cell phone occupied Livia's nights, bright and glowing and carrying Nicole's name as it buzzed and chimed.

Livia held her phone while it rang that night but had decided not to answer it. Midnight on a Saturday was never a good time to talk with Nicole, and Livia had decided that night to avoid the drama waiting on the other end of the call. Now, Livia would live without knowing if taking that call the night Nicole disappeared would have made any difference for her younger sister.

So, imagining a time in the future where Livia might find redemption, where she might help her sister by using whatever gifts her hands and mind possessed, was the fuel needed to get through life.

* * *

After morning rounds with Dr. Colt and the other fellows, Livia settled into the single autopsy assigned to her for the day. A straightforward junkie who died of an overdose. The body lay on Livia's table, intubation tubes spilling from his gaping mouth where paramedics tried to save him. Dr. Colt required forty-five minutes to complete a routine autopsy, which ODs were considered. Two months into her fellowship, Livia had brought her times down from more than two hours to an hour and a half. Progress was all Dr. Colt asked from his fellows, and Livia Cutty was making it.

Today, it took one hour twenty-two minutes to perform the external and internal examination of the overdose in front of her, determining the cause of death to be cardiac arrest due to acute opiate intoxication. Manner of death: accident.

Livia was wrapping up paperwork in the fellows' office when Dr. Colt knocked on the open door.

"How was your morning?"

"Heroin overdose, unremarkable," Livia said from behind her desk.


"One twenty-two."

Dr. Colt pouted his lower lip. "Two months in, that's good. Better than any of the other fellows."

"You said it wasn't a competition."

"It's not," Dr. Colt said. "But so far, you're winning. Can you handle a double today?"

Supervising physicians routinely performed multiple autopsies in a day, and all the fellows would be expected to increase their caseloads once they brought their times down and got the hang of the overwhelming paperwork that went along with each body. With her fellowship running twelve months — from July to July — working five days a week, with stretches of time away from the autopsy suite observing other subspecialties, two weeks dedicated to ride-alongs with the medicolegal investigators, plus days spent in court or participating in mock trials with law students, Livia knew that to reach the magic number of 250 autopsies the program promised, she would eventually have to log more than a single case each day.

"Of course," she said without hesitation.

"Good. We've got a floater coming in. Couple of fishermen found the body out by the flats this morning."

"I'll finish my paperwork and get on it as soon as it comes in."

"You'll present your findings at afternoon rounds," Dr. Colt said. He pulled a small notepad from his breast pocket and jotted a reminder as he walked out of her office.


The body arrived at one p.m., which gave Livia two hours to perform the autopsy, clean up, and gather her notes before three o'clock rounds. Afternoon rounds were the bewitching event each day, when the fellows presented the day's cases to the staff at the OCME. The audience included Dr. Colt and the other attending MEs under whom the fellows were training, the subspecialists in pathology who assisted in nearly every case, visiting medical students, and pathology residents. On a given afternoon, thirty people stared at Livia as she presented.

If fellows were confused about the details of the cases they were presenting, it was painfully obvious and very unpleasant. There was no faking it. Hiding was impossible when you were in the cage, as was termed the presentation room where afternoon rounds took place. Surrounded by ugly metal chain link that belonged in someone's 1970s backyard, the cage was a feared place for all new fellows. Standing in front of the large crowd was meant to be stressful and challenging. It was also, throughout the course of the year, supposed to get easier.

"Don't worry," one graduating fellow told Livia when they swapped spots in July. "The cage is a place you'll hate at first, but later love. It grows on you."

After two months on the job, the love affair had yet to blossom.

Livia finished her paperwork on the heroin overdose and headed back to the autopsy suite. She gowned up in a disposable blue surgical smock over her scrubs, triple-gloved her hands, and pulled a full shield over her face as the investigators rolled the gurney through the back door of the morgue and parked it next to Livia's autopsy table. In a sterile operating room, the surgical dressings were meant to protect the patient from the doctor. In the morgue, the opposite was true. Cotton, latex, and plastic were all that stood between Livia and whatever disease and decay waited inside the bodies she dissected.

With one at the head and the other at the feet, the two scene investigators lifted the body — zipped in the standard black vinyl — onto the autopsy table. Livia approached as the investigators gave the scene details to her — male floater discovered by fisherman at just past seven a.m. Advanced decomposition, and an obvious broken leg from wherever he'd jumped.

"How far is the closest bridge from where the body was found?" Livia asked.

"Six miles," Kent Chapple, one of the scene investigators, said.

"That's a long way to float."

"He's ripe enough to suggest a long swim," Kent said. "Colt's giving this to you, huh?"

Water leaked from the body bag and dripped through the holes of Livia's table, collecting in the basin below. A body pulled from salt water was never a pretty sight. Jumpers usually die on impact, and eventually sink. They were termed floaters only after the body began the decaying process where intestinal bacteria fester and eat away the insides, releasing noxious gases captured within the abdominal cavity that, literally, raise the dead. This process could take hours to days, and the longer the body sat underwater before floating to the surface, the worse condition it was in when it finally arrived at the morgue.

Livia smiled from behind her clear plastic face shield. "Lucky me."

She slid the zipper down and watched as Kent and his partner slipped the bag gently away. She saw immediately the body was badly decomposed, worse than any floater she'd seen before. Much of the epidermis was missing and, in some areas, the full thickness of the integumentary system gone entirely with only muscle and tendon and bone visible.

The investigators took their dripping body bag and placed it on the gurney.

"Good luck," Kent said.

Livia waved her hand but kept her gaze on the body.

"I see it every year, Doc," Kent said at the door. "Around September it starts. They break you in with drunks and overdoses. Then the ugly ones come. Decomps and kids. Doesn't let up until January or so. Colt does it to all the fellows to find out what you're made of. You'll get some juicy homicides eventually. I know that's what you're all after. A nice gunshot wound or strangulation. But you'll have to wait until winter. Deal with the messy ones first. Prove you can handle them."

"That's how it works around here?" Livia asked.

"Every year."

Livia lifted her chin. "Thanks, Kent. I'll let you know how this one goes."

"Don't bother."

The investigators wheeled the empty gurney out of the morgue, shaking their heads with suppressed smiles and sideways glances at the mess they'd left on the table that would surely make most people vomit, and would be a challenge for even a seasoned ME to get through. They knew Dr. Cutty would be at it for a while. Lots of work and trouble, and likely a few dry heaves, all to scribble on a death certificate that internal organ damage or aortic dissection was the cause of death; suicide the manner.

* * *

The back door to the morgue closed and with the investigators gone Livia was the only physician in the autopsy suite, just her and the jumper, still dripping on her table. Mornings saw most, if not all, of the autopsy tables crowded with pathologists garbed up and in various stages of examination. Others milled around as well, subspecialists weaving between the tables and around the autopsy suite to offer their expertise. The morgue was not a sterile environment and all that was required for entry was an OCME badge or a police shield. Detectives routinely peered over a pathologist's shoulder, waiting on a crucial nugget of information that would either set them off on an investigation or give them clearance from one. Technicians wheeled away bodies for X-ray or picked up specimens for neuro-path or derm-path or dental-path. Other technicians completed the autopsy process by sewing closed the gaping incisions made by the physicians. Scene investigators came and went, sometimes delivering new bodies to empty tables. Overseeing it all was Dr. Colt, who strolled the autopsy suite, hands clasped behind his back and cheaters hanging at the tip of his nose. Mornings were organized chaos.

But today was Livia's first double, the first time she was in the autopsy suite during afternoon hours. This was the time of day usually spent on paperwork, gathering notes and preparing for three o'clock rounds in the cage. With just her and the body in the quiet morgue, Livia sensed the eeriness of the place. Every sound was amplified, her tools clanking off the metal table and reverberating in the corners, the body dripping like a leaky faucet into the basin below. Usually, bone saws from adjacent tables or conversation from her colleagues overwhelmed these noises. But today her movements were magnified and obvious, and it made for a most unpleasant experience as she manipulated the body in front of her and listened to the sucking and sloshing of tissue. It took some time to adjust to the solitude, but when she got deeper into the external examination, the hollowness of the morgue faded and soon skepticism was all that remained.

Suicide jumpers typically presented with internal organ bleeding. The impact of the fall, depending on the height of the jump, brought death in a number of ways. Oftentimes, a broken rib impaled a lung or pierced the heart, and exsanguination — bleeding to death — was the cause of death. The impact could dislodge the aorta from the heart, or shear another vital vessel to cause the bleeding. In these cases, Livia would open the abdominal cavity to find pooling blood trapped in one of the compartments surrounding whichever organ had suffered the damage. Other times, the body was in decent shape with the internal organs having been protected by the skeletal shell. When Livia saw this presentation, she knew to look at the skull and the brain, which would likely show fractures and subarachnoid bleeding.

As she looked at the body in front of her, which had been presented as a floater found drifting in Emerson Bay, Livia knew it wasn't so. First, in order for this body to reach such a level of decomposition — there was barely a flap of skin present, and what was there was rancid and black — it had to have been in the water for months or longer. If that were the case, it would not have been floating, as Livia was certain this body had not been. The intestinal gases that float a body need to be contained in the abdominal cavity, and this body had no such cavity. All that was left of the gut was a wall of muscle and tendon that held the organs in place but certainly was not airtight to hold gases. Second, the broken leg the investigators had documented was not typical of a jumper who landed feetfirst. Those bodies showed impact injuries and upward compression of bones, sometimes with the tibia rising past the knee and into the thigh; and the femur displaced into the pelvis. The body in front of Livia held a horizontally fractured femur that suggested localized trauma, not full-impact trauma of a body landing sideways on water and definitely not a feetfirst landing.

Livia jotted notes on her clipboard and then started the internal exam, which showed a lack of any damage to the organs. The rib cage was in full working order. The heart was healthy, with the aorta and inferior vena cava well apposed. Liver, spleen and kidneys showed no damage. The lungs were empty of water. She was meticulous with her documentation and careful as she weighed each organ. An hour into the autopsy, perspiration covered her brow. She felt her scrubs sticking to her arms and back as she checked the wall clock — just past two p.m.


Excerpted from The Girl Who Was Taken by Charlie Donlea. Copyright © 2017 Charlie Donlea. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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The Girl Who Was Taken 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 31 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Kept me guessing. Never saw THAT coming!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book too a while to get in the story, because they had so characters to give solid backgrounds for. Soon the story took off. You do truly have to pay attention, the swift change from one time period to the next is quick. Overall I think it is a great story?BUT I gotta tell you, their better bee another book that starts exactly where is book ends. I really hate when a book leaves you hanging at the end. I want to know if the last body was Nicole...
Anonymous 5 days ago
When's the next one out?
Anonymous 23 days ago
a great book, hard to put down
Anonymous 3 months ago
Exellent! Every time I thought I knew who the killer was, another twist led me in another direction . Can't wait to read more from this author.
Anonymous 3 months ago
Anonymous 8 months ago
Exceptional book that kept my attention the entire book. In fact, I had a heart time putting it down. I'd high recommend this book if you like intense mysteries.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I will be reading more from this author
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Absolutely Amazing! I could not put this book down and was hooked from the start. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves a good thrill.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Edge of your seat read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book so much! It kept me guessing right to almost the very end. Great characters, storyline.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Kept me guessing and held my attention until the end. Well done!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Just finished your first two and enjoyed both and looking forward to your upcoming book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Best book I've read in quite some time. Kept me guessing throughout the entire book. Cannot wait for the next book to be released. I've definitely hooked a new author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very well written! Couldn’t put it down!
Dollycas More than 1 year ago
Dollycas’s Thoughts Charlie Donlea is a new author to me and I am so happy I found this book. Emerson Bay is rocked when two high school seniors go missing. Nicole Cutty and Megan McDonald were not friends but they hung in the same crowd. They were both at a summer beach party when they disappeared. No clues were found even after a massive search. But then, 2 weeks later Megan is found walking down a highway. She has no idea who took her or why or where Nicole could be. Her physical injuries healed but she is emotionally tattered. She starts seeing a therapist and together they release a book about her trauma. Sadly Nicole is hardly mentioned. Nicole’s sister Livia has never given up on finding Nicole. She is a fellow completing her training as a forensic pathologist knowing that any day her sister could appear on her autopsy table. Instead a young man from Nicole’s past shows up first and after he is identified she thinks he is connected to her disappearance. Livia reaches out to Megan hoping that together they can bring Nicole home. The story is broken down into several parts and alternates between past and present. The separate plot lines blend together so well and are easy to follow. Livia is the main character and most of the story is from her point of view. I was a little surprised at the actions she took while just being a fellow. She was driven to find answers even if that meant meeting with medical examiners from other states when girls had gone missing. She also tracked down and spoke to witnesses even before bringing the police in. She was gutsy and lucky. With flashbacks we were able to get Nicole’s point of view and Megan was remembering more and more under hypnosis with her therapist. Megan’s parents wanted to see that she was healing and getting back to her old self so she put on a happy face around them but she was hurting inside. The story has a real ripped from the headlines feel with a steady pace until Megan has a vital memory. From that point on the pages flew and the suspense ramped up to a extreme pace. The real world fell away and I was right there with Livia and Morgan. The author twisted the story in an incredible way that took me completely by surprise and I had that OMG moment. Much of the story is procedural but so compelling. As it continues is becomes riveting, gripping, exciting, intense and the final twist was mind blowing. There are some creepy parts and Livia’s autopsies are vividly described. This story is not for the faint of heart but if you enjoy thrilling suspense this is the book for you. I am excited to have found this author. I will be watching to see what he brings us next.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Only took me a few days to read this book. Loved it! Had a hard time putting it down. Definitely a new favorite author of mine!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Really good book! Had me from the first pages and couldn't get enough of it. Awesome! Hope this author continues to write more books like this one!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Engaging characters, good storyline and a few possible suspects. Grabbed me from the first page. I will look for more from this author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book about two missing girls was a really interesting thriller. I will read more by this author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A real page turner that murder mystery lovers will enjoy!
pet1210 More than 1 year ago
Having really enjoyed Charlie Donlea's debut novel Summit Lake last year, I was looking forward to his new thriller. It didn't disappoint. Even if you've sworn off any more "Girl"-titled novels this one is a well-written and original mystery that is worthwhile adding. The main character, Livia Cutty, is training as a medical examiner. A career aspiration attributable to the loss of her younger sister, Nicole, whose disappearance over a year ago has since turned into a cold case. When Livia finds out that a body on her autopsy table had links with her missing sister, Livia starts investigating on her own. The story switches back and forth between the present day and the time leading up to Nicole's disappearance. In addition, there are several points of view. On the same night Nicole disappeared, one of her classmates, Megan McDonald, was abducted, but she made it back home a couple of weeks later. I thought the alternating timeframes and perspectives worked well and were straightforward to follow. The shortish chapters kept the momentum going and I was pretty much gripped the entire way through. I enjoyed reading about Livia's work as a forensic pathologist. She was an interesting and strong character. Mr Donlea threw plenty of red herrings and I'm afraid I fell for all the 'clues'. The finale was an exciting surprise. In the end, there were a couple of things I would have liked more information on, e.g. the relationship between Megan's dad and Casey wasn't fully explained. Overall, a solid mystery with a very intriguing plot and well-developed characters.
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