Lost Girls by Andrew Pyper. HarperCollins 1999.
I have read many favourable reviews of Andrew Pyper’s books, but have never gotten around to reading one. Recently, I was in a used book store, looking for something else, when I noticed a copy of Lost Girls. I added it to my purchases and brought it home and this legal thriller finally made it to the top of my reading list this week.
Lost Girls is narrated by Barth Crane, young and upcoming attorney with Lyle, Gederov & Associate. He’s the associate. When the firm takes on an out-of-town murder case, Barth is assigned to travel from Toronto to the remote (by Toronto standards) northern town of Murdock to defend their new client, Thom Tripp. A longtime resident and teacher at the local high school, Tripp is accused of murdering two teenaged girls. The evidence is circumstantial because althought the girls disappeared and are presumed dead, no bodies have ever been recovered. Crane settles into the local seedy hotel and sets about putting his case together, meeting his client, the crown attorney handling the case, the town’s librarian and other town folk. It is thought that the two missing girls probably lie at the bottom of a nearby lake, which local legend holds is haunted by The Lady, herself a drowning victim who seeks to reclaim her lost children. As Crane’s investigation unfolds, it becomes clear that Crane, a loner and a junkie, is haunted by demons of his own. The town of Murdock and especially its lake reawaken memories of Crane’s own disturbing past.
Pyper’s depiction of the small town and its residents is insightful and often witty. It’s impossible not to try to place the fictional town of Murdock in the northern landscape. As the gateway to the north, North Bay seems likely, but the description of the prison facilities brings Penetanguishene to mind.
Pyper, who holds a law degree from U of T himself, offers some interesting insights into behind-the-scenes trial action and explores the ethical issues of seeking to exonerate someone who is probably guilty. The experience of a high-functioning drug user as seen through the eyes of Crane is also noteworthy. I especially liked the way two stories, that of Crane and that of Tripp, are woven together. In the end, one man finds the freedom to move forward with his life while the other succumbs to the weight of his past.