The Lost // by Claire McGowan

Just as a heads up:  a lot of this book is about abortion, so a lot of my review is also about abortion.  (I had no idea about this when I started the book, and it didn’t take a turn into this territory until more than 100 pages in, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have picked this one up.)  My personal stance is strongly against abortion, so if you don’t want to hear snide comments about it, I’d recommend giving this review a miss.  And if you don’t like hearing blatant lies and misinformation about the prolife movement, I wouldn’t recommend reading this book.

//published 2013//

The Lost is the first in a series of books that focus on a forensic psychologist named Paula Maguire.  It’s one of those series that has been on the TBR for so long that I’m not sure who exactly first reviewed it and inspired me to add it.  For me, while The Lost wasn’t a terrible read, there were enough negatives to dissuade me from reading the rest of the series (which is currently five more books).

Part of the problem is that I started the book not really knowing what a forensic psychologist does… and I still have no idea.  Paula’s job description seemed incredibly vague, and got vaguer.  Just now, when I finally looked up forensic psychologist, it only made me more confused as it doesn’t sound remotely like anything that Paula did in this entire book!

Our story opens in London, where Paula is being strongly encouraged by her boss to take a new position, which involves moving back to her small hometown on the border between the two Irelands, a place that Paula (of course) swore she would never return to.  The reason that her boss thinks she should make the move is that even though she’s awesome at her job (whatever it is), she isn’t very good at obeying the rules, which is kind of an important part of being a member of law enforcement.  Although Paula fights against the reassignment, readers will be unsurprised to find Paula returning to Ballyterrin.

Paula’s new job is working with a team on what is apparently her specialty – missing persons cases.  This new team has brought together individuals from Ireland and Northern Ireland (and is being headed up by someone from London) in order to look at cold cases of missing persons from the last thirty years or so in an attempt to be able to share information between the two Irelands – something that was very difficult during the Troubles – and possibly close some of the cases.  Because Ballyterrin was a border town, I could kinda sorta buy it as being the location for this new team, despite the fact that everyone goes on about how it’s such a small an unimportant town (it seems like this kind of team would set up in a city with more resources but whatever).  I was also confused about why, if the team’s purpose was to be looking at cold cases, they were actually working two very hot cases – two young women, apparently unconnected, have disappeared from Ballyterrin in the last few weeks.  When one of the young women turns up dead, I was even more confused that the cold case missing persons team continued working what was now an active homicide case….

Still, I was willing to overlook the confusing team purpose (and the fact that Paula’s job description seemed to be “writing reports” even though she spent most of her time dashing around town following her own leads against express orders from her superior officer), except then the book took a sharp turn onto Abortion is a Basic Human Right Street and put its foot on the accelerator.  The entire drive for the rest of the book seemed to be producing pregnant teenagers and then getting super angsty about how in Ireland, they can’t just pop off and murder their babies, and how basically every single time someone gets an abortion anywhere in the world, it’s because a young teenage girl has been either raped or seduced by a creepy older man (who is of course “Christian”).  I realize that I’m prolife (unabashedly) and thus am going to be somewhat more sensitive to a strong pro-abortion message (and seriously, this wasn’t a prochoice message, it was literally pro-abortion, there wasn’t a single time that it was mentioned that any of these girls should have been able to choose whether or not to carry their babies to term, it was 100% they should have been allowed access to the abortion that they obviously needed), but this really did feel over-the-top.  It’s been a few weeks since I finished this one, but there were at least SIX pregnant teenagers (three or four of whom had been impregnated in less than a year by the same man), plus two girls that were slightly older, plus the implication that there were even more than the ones they knew about.  Seriously??  It was like a murder mystery where the body count gets wildly out of hand to the point where you can’t believe the murderer has even had time to sit down and eat a decent meal in days because he’s been so busy killing people and hiding bodies.  This was definitely the same thing – it was like this guy had nothing but back-to-back-to-back appointments with vulnerable young girls to sleep with until they got pregnant, to the point that it was genuinely not believable any more.

There was also this whole thing about how the only reason that Ireland hasn’t legalized abortion is because “Christian” charities make SO MUCH MONEY by virtually kidnapping young pregnant girls and forcing them to give birth and then STEALING THEIR BABIES and SELLING THEM to the United States for TENS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS all of which goes DIRECTLY to American prolife groups!  Because obviously the ONLY way a prolife group could get money is by abusing young women.  And I don’t know much about Ireland’s history, and it’s entirely possible that there were these type of “homes” all over the place that took young women in and then gave their babies up for adoption, but I find it hard to believe that EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM also starved, abused, beat, and imprisoned these girls and then forced them into indentured servanthood until they became adults.

By this time, the number of pregnant girls was ridiculous, and Paula’s actions were completely erratic, and I still had no idea what her actual job was.  I was also, frankly, a bit put off by the fact that Paula has sex with THREE different men in this book, and then acts shocked and confused that she’s pregnant in the end!  Two of the people she sleeps with are coworkers/supervisors, which felt uncomfortable and unethical, and the third person is the editor of the newspaper who has been mucking about with their investigation, and thus also felt uncomfortable and unethical, despite the fact that Paula had a backstory with this guy from when they grew up together.  It just seemed like if a male character had had sex with these same types of characters, everyone would think he was a manipulative creep, but Paula is just an Enlighted Woman.  The actual murderer of the girl who is killed felt glaringly obvious (and this from someone who actually is not good at guessing whodunit for the most part) and Paula literally didn’t get it until the killer confessed because she was SO convinced that SHE KNEW who the killer was that she ignored all the contrary evidence.

The whole thing with the pregnant girls was also confusing because the actual motive of this guy was super vague??  Like, okay, he wants to bang teenage girls.  But it seems like there would be a lot of way simpler ways to accomplish this then setting up this entire religious organization with tons of staff members and big community outreaches and stuff??  I was also confused about the fact that they couldn’t prosecute the guy because even though the one girl said he had had sex with her, it was consensual so…  aren’t their laws against adults sleeping with minors even if the minor says it’s okay?? This girl is 15??

There was also this whole other thing where one of the girls who disappeared is from this trailer park or something outside of town and these people hate everyone because of racism, but because I’m not incredibly familiar with Ireland, I never really understood what the racism bit was – like are these gypsies maybe?  Or is it some kind of Muslim community?  I never had any idea what people group these people were, just they hate everyone and everyone hates them.  They also refused to talk with the police and actually physically attacked them like by throwing bricks and crap at them, yet spend all their time being outraged because the police aren’t doing enough to find the missing girl….?!??!?  And everyone else is like, “Boo, police, they are such racists, they don’t even care about this girl!” despite the fact that literally no one in this community would talk with the police except for the girl’s sister and literally the girl’s sister is the ONLY reason they even know the girl is missing!  I was SO confused by this entire aspect of the story.

I realize this book was written and published in Great Britain where presumably people are much more familiar with the culture and history of the area, but it really felt like there could have been at least a few explanatory paragraphs about a couple of historic events that had a big impact on the present story.

Despite all this, I was still willing to go with a 3* rating and try the second book.  I actually did like Paula for the most part, and the pacing of the book was solid, with a lot of likable secondary characters.  The vibe was very Irish, and I genuinely enjoyed the sense of place.  And lots of times the first book in a series is still trying to sort itself out, so I like to give second books a go if the first is at least moderately enjoyable or feels like it has potential.  But within the first few pages of the second book it was obvious that I was going to have to listen to Paula spend pages trying to decide whether or not she should kill her baby (even though she still doesn’t even know who the father is – guess he doesn’t get any sort of say in the matter, as usual), and I knew I simply couldn’t handle it, even if she decided to keep the baby in the end.  So while there were things to like about this book, overall a very choppy and semi-incoherent plot, combined with an incredibly polemic message about abortion, means I can’t quite recommend it.