REVIEW: Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker

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Read this book for: non-fiction, true crime, multiple storylines, US-based story, victim-focussed narrative, serial killer

Quick Review: A true-crime narrative about five victims of the ‘Gilgo Beach Killer’ – women who were killed and hidden in Long Island – their personal histories and their families’ still ongoing search for justice, written from a refreshingly different perspective.


Award-winning investigative reporter Robert Kolker delivers a humanizing account of the true-life search for a serial killer still at large on Long Island, and presents the first detailed look at the shadow world of online escorts, where making a living is easier than ever and the dangers remain all too real. A triumph of reporting, a riveting narrative, and “a lashing critique of how society and the police let five young women down” (Dwight Garner, New York Times), LOST GIRLS is a portrait of unsolved murders in an idyllic part of America, of the underside of the Internet, and of the secrets we keep without admitting to ourselves that we keep them.

LOST GIRLS: AN UNSOLVED AMERICAN MYSTERY is journalist Robert Kolker’s first book, and it covers the backgrounds of five of the victims whose bodies were found on a small stretch of beach in Long Island in 2010. This book is known for its unique approach and investigation into a story of this kind.

And it is a very unique approach. This is a book about a serial killer that does not focus at all on the killer or the death of the victims. Instead, Kolker chooses to look at the lives of these five women. All of these women worked as escorts, and Kolker does an excellent job of painting a poignant picture of each of them, including sensitive explanations of their relationships with family and friends, their motivations to become escorts, and their own goals and dreams. Kolker also looks at how each of these women created their arrangements on the internet, and how these situations were potentially even more dangerous than that of regular escort work.

After a brief interlude about the town that the remains of these women were found near, Kolker picks up the search for one of the women and how that investigation led to the discover of quite a few bodies. The majority of the remainder of the book is spent on the families’ reactions to these discoveries, with a brief look at a few of the locals who some of the victims’ families believed were involved in their disappearance.

This is absolutely a startling departure from regular crime narratives. The investigation and killings themselves are de-emphasized in favour of the focus on the victims, which lends a deeply personal and realistic look into these investigations; this is what a family goes through during a murder investigation. This is how people conduct their lives, never guessing that they will fall victim to a killer. Despite this realistic look – which is utterly riveting – I finished the book still feeling like I knew very little about the investigation. The one thing I would change about this book is to add more about how the investigation was actually conducted; to learn more about the suspects and what avenues of inquiry are still open. However, as this is still an ongoing investigation, I do understand the fact that many details cannot be made available.

This is a truly unique and worthwhile true crime read; the unique perspective of LOST GIRLS is moving and difficult to put down. If you are looking for realism, definitely pick this sensitively created portrait up.

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