Last year I read and enjoyed Charlie Donlea’s first novel “Summit Lake“, so I had high hopes for his second novel “The girl who was taken“. Also, I’d read several glowing reviews from bloggers whose opinions I respect.
The novel’s protagonist is Livia Cutty, a pathologist working in Raleigh, North Carolina who is studying in a fellowship under the forensic expert Dr. Gerald Colt. Livia is beautiful, highly intelligent, and an avid kickboxer in her spare time. She is also the elder sister of Nicole Cutty, the girl who was taken around the same time as Megan McDonald.
Megan McDonald, an all-American girl and daughter of Emerson Bay’s sheriff was abducted from a beach party in the summer of 2016. Luckily she escaped her abductor and now, one year later, with the help of her psychiatrist, she has written a true-crime account of her experiences.
Nicole Cutty was not so fortunate. No one knows what happened to Nicole and her body was never found. Her friends had called her “Slutty Cutty” and seemed to have distanced themselves from her for the months immediately preceding her abduction.
“A life might end, but sometimes their cases live forever.”
Now, Livia encounters a body during her morning autopsies that brings the events of last year to the present. A homicide victim, he was a young man named Casey Delevan who was dating Nicole at the time of her disappearance. It seems he has been dead for about a year. Livia has always felt that she failed her younger sister because she didn’t answer her phone call the night she went missing… Now, she wants to attone for her failure by investigating her sister’s case.
With the help of some co-workers and much research and footwork on her part, Livia discovers links to other girls who were taken. Some from other states as well as North Carolina. Her medical and forensic training help her to make connections from autopsy reports in which she discovers all of the girls were drugged with Ketamine.
This book encompasses many modern themes including the dangers of troubled minds encountering others in online chatrooms who have similar interests. Adolescent angst and insecurity; adult obsession and depravity. Cult-like groups.
Personally, I had a few problems with the novel. I don’t know if it is just that I’ve read a lot of books about abductions and I’m becoming jaded, or if I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind for this particular book at this particular time. I found the protagonist Livia to be just too perfect. Scary smart, beautiful, an intimidating kickboxer, she was just too good to be true which made her character unrealistic in my view.
Also, I found the novel ageist. Mr. Steinman, a secondary character, referred to several times as ‘an old man’ who relished attention was only 60 years old. (Younger than I am by the way – and I took offense to that.)
Despite my personal quibbles with the book, this was a fast-paced novel of suspense with several ‘red herrings’. (I’m proud to say I did not fall for them). The end twist ratcheted up the tension even more when Livia and Megan team up to confront the abductor. The writing held my interest, and I know this novel will be savored by many.
Charlie Donlea lives in Chicago with his wife and two young children. He spends a part of each year fishing with his father in the far reaches of Canada, where the roads end and lakes are accessible only by floatplane. These majestic trips to “God’s Country” inspired the setting for his first novel, “Summit Lake”.