Review: The Lost Ones by Sheena Kamal

The Lost Ones by Sheena Kamal is a dark, compulsively readable psychological suspense debut, the first in a new series featuring the brilliant, fearless, chaotic, and deeply flawed Nora Watts—a character as heartbreakingly troubled, emotionally complex, and irresistibly compelling as Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander and Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole.

When you are a receptionist and research assistant for a private investigator and his award-winning journalist partner, one could assume life would be straightforward and simple. But that’s not the case for Nora Watts, mostly because she is neither. She lives in the basement underneath her place of work, unknown to her employers. This means she has no rent to pay and, more importantly, no one can find her. She does the finding.

Her numerous skills, intuition, and contacts in various places means she is more than just an assistant or researcher. But Nora has a history that’s dark, toxic, and full of turmoil, which often leads her to find solace at the bottom of a bottle. Though she seeks out a support group and connects with a mentor, Nora’s only real companion is a dog named Whisper. Whisper shares Nora’s life, a life that gets more complicated and deadly by the page.

When a couple turns up, Nora can’t understand how they have found her. They went to great lengths to locate Nora since they believe she is uniquely qualified for the task of finding their adopted daughter, Bonnie, who has gone missing. They are right. Nora is Bonnie’s birth mother. And she decides to take up the case.

I am so interested in the sign that I almost don’t notice the man sitting in a dark sedan and watching the house. By the time I do see him it is already too late to turn back, so I adopt a casual, out-for-a-late-stroll pace. The man isn’t sleeping, so I know that he’s not a cop. Also he’s eating an apple. I have never before seen a cop eat an apple and, though I suspect it must happen from time to time, I can’t imagine it in a surveillance situation. Everett said that the police logged Bonnie as a runaway. Unlikely, then, that they’d maintain a presence.

I pass him with Whisper and, after an initial glance in which he has inventoried my features and strands of dark hair creeping out from beneath my hoodie, he dismisses me. I am clearly not a threat, nor whomever he is looking out for, so he returns his attention to the house.

It doesn’t bother me that he has seen my face because he’ll never remember what I look like come morning. If pressed, he might say “maybe native, average height, skinny.” If he was going to be mean about it, he’d add: “flat chest, no sense of style, ugly dog.”

Nora’s investigation quickly turns dangerous as she encounters men who spit bullets on both their own behalf and that of the corporate gods who have their own reasons for making sure Bonnie is not found. It brings Nora face to face with her own tortured existence in a way that requires her complete attention, yet she still has to dodge hot lead as she doles out her own street justice in the form of a tire iron and an elbow to the nose.

Everyone Nora encounters seems to have a piece of her past in their hands. It is as though she is putting together a very painful and complicated jigsaw puzzle. Not everyone is forthcoming in giving up the pieces, and Nora’s propensity for violence, when angered, comes in handy in making people give up what is intrinsically hers. However, the violence meted out by Nora doesn’t push you away, as it is deftly handled by Sheena Kamal. Nora has had so many wrongs perpetrated against her that you find yourself rooting for her when a boot finds its way home to a well-chosen place.

The Lost Ones is a crime thriller, and Sheena Kamal has managed to achieve something quite remarkable: a story that both plays with your emotions and has you sitting on the edge of your seat wondering what surprise is in store for you on the next page. The plot is tight from page one, and the pace continues to quicken throughout.

A plot as clever as it is sinister, The Lost Ones is a superb portrait of what people in power think they can get away with until retribution comes calling. And it always does. I was completely lost in the tale and did not come up for air until the final page. Pick up a copy for yourself, and I bet you'll find it impossible to put down.


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Dirk Robertson is a Scots thriller writer, currently in Virginia where he is promoting literacy and art projects for young gang members. When not writing, tweeting, or blogging on the Mystery Writers of America website, he designs and knits clothes and handbags from recycled rubbish.

Read all Dirk Robertson’s posts for Criminal Element.


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