Since they can rekindle interest in long-cold cases, true-crime podcasts can be used as a prop by authors of suspense books.

The Lost Girls by Jessica Chiarella (Putnam, 336 pages, paper, $17) is a beautifully written but disturbing story about a life falling apart because of a case that won’t go away.

Repression, Obsession, Murder

Twenty years ago, Maggie Reese, Marti Reese’s older sister, entered a stranger’s car and never came out again. When the story starts, Marti has recently recovered from a new trauma: the finding of a body that, according to DNA tests, appeared to match the description of her sister but was actually someone else.

In order to explore the case, Marti and her friend Andrea have created a six-episode podcast. This leads her to Ava Vreeland, a woman with an intriguing lead: Sarah Ketchum’s death occurred seven years prior in the same Chicago neighbourhood where Marti grew up. Ava believes her brother is innocent and that the real murderer is still at large despite the fact that he was found guilty of the crime.

Is there a pattern to these incidents? Was there crucial information about Sarah’s death that the police missed? Why didn’t Marti go back to her chaste husband Eric during her self-destructive rage?

The novel begins slowly, with a dark mood and a dark character, but suddenly picks up speed and introduces fresh information, much like a speaker who begins to speak more quickly and throw in fresh information as his allotted time is running out.

Last Words

Maggie’s fate is lost in the shuffle as Chiarelli descends further into obsession and psychopathy (and let’s not even get on Ted, Ava’s husband).

Maybe Marti has secrets of her own to keep hidden. She argues that this type of behaviour shouldn’t be accepted because “we are capable of the things we have done.”