HarperCollins | 2013
Opening Mystery: Seriously, WTF happened to Shannan Gilbert?
Main Creep: Peter Hackett has some attention issues.
Plot Truthy-ness: A humanizing portrait.
I’m pretty fascinated by the Long Island Serial killer case. It’s been some time since we had an evil, undetectable serial killer case to watch in real-time. Though it’s faded from the news and been replaced by, well, mostly Trump for fuck’s sake, this is certainly a story to keep a spotlight on. There are dozens of women whose lives have been cut short with zero progress towards justice of any kind.
The more cynical side of me might say that because they were escorts and sex workers that their cases are deemed “less important” to solve compared to other things cops are coming across every day involving people with more “societal value.” That’s the more cynical side.
I’ve seen a couple documentaries on this decades-old unsolved mystery, watched a few interviews and have a general idea of who is suspicious AF (I’m looking at you Dr. Hackett, you shady motherfucker,) so, I wanted to read this novel by an award-winning investigative reporter because I thought I would be getting a really in-depth overview of the case as it stood in 2013, and some theories about what the actual fuck is going on.
Maybe I was expecting a little bit too much from a novel about murders where there are exactly zero real evidence and zero real leads. The logical side of me tells my more cynical side, it’s not that no one is concerned AF about an uncaught serial killer because he’s “only” killing sex workers, it’s just that there is literally no evidence for the cops to go on so they really have nowhere else to take the cases.
It seems that because there is so little “case” to really sink your teeth into here, that Kolker spends the first half of the book delving into the lives of the victims, which, I think is important when you consider true crime culture can sometimes focus too much on the killer, and less on the lives they’ve taken. Kolker does a really detailed job of creating portraits of the “lost girls” and their families, but it’s really, like, the only thing he does for the majority of the book?
At times, there were so many relationships and personal information being batted around, so many explanations of who was fucking who and who was dating who and who was having kids with who and who was exes with who and who’s mother was mad at who – that I really stopped being able to keep it all straight.
It was like a domestic soap opera and I wasn’t really into it. There’s even a “cast of characters” at the end of the book, but that doesn’t really help when you’re at the beginning of the book.
That’s not to diminish the fact that these are real people with real lives that were affected by tragedy, but there was somewhat of a disconnect for me between what I was expecting the novel to be and what it actually was.
There’s very little information for a true crime reader to take in that will answer questions, present theories, make you think or question or cast suspicion. Mostly, after all the women are profiled, this is a book that looks at the world of online escort services – how it works, what the motivations for doing it are, what lives are like within that scene and how Craig’s List has become an important tool of the industry.
I appreciate that Kolker never tries to draw any conclusions or steer the reader into one opinion or another, instead he presents only real quotes, interactions and timelines of events. But, I think there was a missed opportunity to develop connections with the police and other professionals involved in the cases, and that resulted in very little information on the investigations into these women’s deaths.
Kolker instead connected with family members and friends, and did interviews with boyfriends and alleged pimps. The personal reflections and insights, and denials of guilt, from these people might be momentarily interesting and bring an important reality to the cases, but it lacks the psychological, dark pull that true crime fans are generally looking for outside of the human elements.
Maybe that makes me sound like a cold-hearted bitch. So, be it.
This was definitely not a balanced true crime novel because it had very little crime in it. I could have done with less Facebook, family court and rehab drama, and more information about forensics, theories and police interviews.
I believe we can do both when it comes to true crime – shine a light on the victims, while also exploring what is being done to find them justice.
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. 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.