The first book of Wendy James’ I’d heard of was 2012’s THE MISTAKE and the fact it came with a Women’s Weekly Great Read sticker on its cover guaranteed I would never read it. Whatever their intent, to me those stickers say “here’s a book you know is inferior because we do not anticipate any man ever reading it“. But I was participating in the inaugural Australian Women Writers Challenge that year and promised myself I would read outside my comfort zone a little so picked up a copy and prepared to be underwhelmed. It’s a measure of James’ skill and creativity that the book ended up on my list of favourites for the year, prompted me to seek out her earlier publications and ensured I eagerly anticipated her next release. Which brings us to THE LOST GIRLS, James’ latest tale about the secrets people keep and the lies we tell ourselves just to get by. The latest of her books to get under my skin.
Set in the northern beachside suburbs of Sydney its central figure is Angie who in 1978 is 14 and staying with her cousins Mick and Jane during the summer holidays. Jane hero-worships her older cousin, Mick is besotted in a different way and everyone else seems to be at least a little awe of her. Angie is all too aware of the ripples she causes but her violent death has consequences for those left behind that last much longer than her short life.
In the present day Jane is a middle-aged mum on the verge of closing down the family business when their daughter meets a journalist interested in talking to the family members of murder victims. Via a series of interviews with the journalist and some flashbacks we learn about the events leading up to Angie’s death and its immediate aftermath from multiple perspectives including Jane’s, Mick’s and their mum’s. This gives the books one of its interesting slants by demonstrating how elastic the concept of truth can be when everyone has a different take on events and conversations.
This is not a novel of psychotic killers and genius detectives but one of average people going about their lives. We’ve all known an Angie (or perhaps you were one), or been desperate to be someone else, or reeled from the sudden collapse of a relationship or situation we’d thought impenetrable, The crimes (it is not a spoiler to let on there is more than one), the events surrounding them and their lingering aftermath are all easily imagined. These are people you’ve known, situations you’ve been in, decisions you could easily have been forced to make yourself and it is this ordinariness that got under my skin. Unlike most crime writers James doesn’t allow readers the luxury of believing that awful things happen elsewhere. Far away. She wants you to know they can just as easily rip your own world apart.
Publisher: Penguin 
Length: 270 pages
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