Several years ago, I stumbled upon Owen Laukkanen’s book The Professionals, featuring the crime-fighting team of Kirk Stevens (with the Minnesota BCA) and Carla Windermere (FBI). It was great! Since then I have enjoyed the exploits of these partners (in Criminal Enterprise, Kill Fee, The Stolen Ones, and The Watcher in the Wall), so I was happy to get an advance copy of The Missing Girls (to be published in March 2017), thanks to Penguin Group Putnam / G.P. Putnam’s Sons and NetGalley.
I wasn’t more than a paragraph or two into the Prologue before a scary premise was revealed: young women are hopping freight trains and meeting creepy guys. Given the title, I knew this wasn’t going to end well for more than one of them. And the line from the Prologue, repeated early on in the book, sent a chilling message: You don’t ever surf trains on the High Line.(seriously, it creeps me out just to write the words.)
Seems there is a serial killer targeting women, all of whom tend to fall into the categories that are unlikely to be missed: runaways, freight hoppers, barmaids, prostitutes, etc., many of them Native Americans – and many who disappear into a snowbank, not to be found until the spring thaw. He chose women the mountains wouldn’t miss, women who died easy. Women who nobody saw, anyway.
It takes awhile for the identity of the killer to be revealed, and Laukkanen is extremely skilled at building tension and describing the atmosphere. So good, in fact, that I kept having to get under a heated blanket as I followed Stevens and Windermere while they worked the case in horrific winter conditions in the North (Montana and into Canada).
Both the atmosphere and the killer are incredibly COLD: “…put that girl’s death down to natural causes, whether it was cold that killed her or a man. It’s all the same thing on this side of the mountain.”
Earlier titles in this series seemed to focus a bit more on the relationship between Stevens and Windermere, which is clearly now only a professional partnership. But they work well together and share a commitment to following through on the search for the killer, because they both clearly care about the women, regardless of their social class, history or current living situation.
Not so much a who-done-it mystery as a character study for the reader but there is a puzzle for them to solve in order to identify the killer, and there is some nifty Internet/Cloud technology as they follow the trail. And OMG, the scenes as the victims and the authorities plow through near-blizzard conditions! These chapters are incredibly tense and build to the ending (not perfect for all the characters by any means).
A great weekend of escapist fiction reading, and another winner from Owen Laukkanen. Five stars.