Lost Souls Hardcover – Aug 1 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
Part police procedural, part piercing psychological character study, Collins's latest novel revolves around a series of lurid murders that threaten the equilibrium of the unstable cop who investigates the killings, as well as the unnamed Midwestern town where they take place. The narrator is Lawrence, an erratic, disgruntled cop who finds the body of a three-year-old girl while on patrol on Halloween night. The initial investigation indicates that the girl was killed in a hit-and-run accident by high school quarterback Kyle Johnson; as the evidence begins to pile up, the police chief and mayor pressure Lawrence to help cover up Johnson's role in the crime. Lawrence goes along, but is seized by guilt and takes off on his own, keeping watch over the mother of the dead child. Then Johnson's girlfriend, Cheryl Carpenter, is found murdered soon after the child's death. As more killings ravage the town, Lawrence becomes both suspect and potential victim in a bizarre series of plot twists. Collins's style, which alternates between the clipped prose of a cop novel and some surreally introspective passages, gives the book the prose feel of a David Lynch film. Exposing the seedier elements of smalltown life, the author continues to successfully mine the same territory that got his first novel, The Keepers of Truth, shortlisted for the Booker Prize.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
On Halloween night in a dead-end town in Indiana, local cop Lawrence discovers the body of a three-year-old girl, dressed as an angel, who appears to be the victim of a hit-and-run accident. Called into a private meeting with the mayor, Lawrence is told to steer the investigation away from a star athlete, who is set to quarterback a championship game. But as the investigation spirals out of control, the body count mounts, and Lawrence discovers an astounding level of hypocrisy at work among the town's most prominent citizens. Irish expatriate Collins (The Resurrectionists, 2000) continues his bleak dissection of small-town America. He brings an outsider's perspective and a cunning use of detail to his portrait, as well as a moving characterization of a lonely cop, blindsided by a contentious divorce, who is struggling to adjust to a diminished quality of life. Every character, from the drug dealer to a harsh religious zealot, is a comment on how the American way of life has failed to deliver on its promise. A finely crafted novel written with intelligence and grace. Joanne Wilkinson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Lost Souls is a murder who-done-it that will keep you turning the pages to find out the next twist, which to me, is one important test of a mystery novel along with not too much side-show but enough to know where you are and who the people in story are. This is the book to take on your next trip or maybe tonight, if you want to read something you can't put down...and this is even the time of year to tie-in with the story, Halloween!
Collins use of a small Midwestern town, maybe not unlike Dowagiac, provides a comfortable feel for plain surroundings and easy to identify characters. There is a level of realism in the way the author develops the characters which reminded me of folks I've met along the way.
He takes us on a journey, begun with the murder of a child dressed for tick or treat but it is only the first of many murders. It is told to us by Lawrence the local cop, who himself is going through many life crisis. He seems to know what he should do but at each fork in the road he takes the easy path, yet his life continues to spin out of control. We meet some people who are suspects not just to the murders but doing their best to cover up the facts. They like Lawrence have their own demons and Michael gently inserts many clues to help or not, yet urges us on to the next chapter to find out more.
This is not an Irish author writing a small town Midwestern mystery but an author who knows about story telling. In the best tradition of Irish writers he is able to tell us a story without the pain and suffering from the old sod about his adopted land. There is something special in those Irish genes for spinning a great yarn!
I am sure we will be reading much from this very talented writer. Lost Souls is well worth your reading and I look forward to his next book
Bleakness permeates this novel, a cop who has pulled a gun on his wife, divorced and unable to pay child support, a cop who is pulled into a cover up of a supposed hit and run on Halloween night in a small mid-west town. The inevitable trajetory of the novel is not hidden, but what Collins does is take us deep into the sense of despair and moral crisis facing so many people in economic ruination. There are trenchant passages of brilliant insight within this novel, and amidst a surreal story where the bodies pile up, Collins pulls off an uncanny, and amazing masterpiece of literary suspense.
Don't get me wrong. Sure, the book is noir fiction; but I enjoy good dark fiction as much as anyone. If you want a good example of the genre, read any of Ross McDonald's mysteries or the much under-rated Saratoga series by Stephen Dobyns.
And it's not that the anti-hero is an alcoholic. As long as he can drop into an AA program and tack on some self-awareness, he's got my blessing. Try reading some of Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder novels; or James Lee Burke's Robicheaux series for a taste of that.
And it's not that the ending is inconclusive. I was totally satisfied by Thomas H. Cook's brilliant novel, "The Interrogation".
What it is about this book is that nothing is redemptive, nothing lifts the book up in any way. The narrator is an unremorseful alcoholic who entertains the conceit that he is a refugee, thereby demeaning virtually every refugee on the planet; the narrator is a loser. Very literally: he has lost his wife, his son. In the course of the book, through sheer obstinate stupidity, he loses his dog, his future, his credibility, his integrity, and whatever few remaining IQ points he had at the beginning of the novel.
The lose ends at the novel's end are painful: a girl has been murdered, it seems ritualistically, but we never know who committed the murder, only who has taken the blame. A woman is missing -- we are told by one character that she is safe but have no evidence of this, and in fact clues seems to imply the opposite. The narrator who has not made one correct deduction through the entire course of the novel expects us to trust his belief that he has been given reliable information by a character whose very choices makes her an unlikely candidate for reliable revelations.
I know that this book has been lauded by some. It has a bleakness that might be mistaken for truth or clarity of vision; but here the bleakness is a cheap, contrived bleakness, the bleakness that comes from the eyes of the beholder, the unreliable narrator of this book, the alcoholic who must find the flaw, even if none exists, in every person he meets, especially if anything in their life transcends the facts of his own existence. Yeah, yeah, yeah: I know that small towns can be insular and smothering, that in real life people are often mean-minded and blind to truth, that entire communities can be that way. Duh! Did Collins think he was on to something the rest of us was missing? Did he see some underlying truth of the human condition we never knew was there? If so, he certainly failed to convey it.
If you want to read about all-pervading loss of hope, despair that tears at the soul, and yet sense a ribbon of humanity beneath it, then find the novels of Graham Greene, all of them, and start reading.
As for this novel, if you have a bird cage ...
Lost Souls is one of the most beautiful, and yet tragic novels I've read in ages. Told through the eyes of a first person narrator, Lawrence, the cop who uncovers the dead child amidst a pile of leaves in an angel's costume, we get a narrative that flits between a shimmer of literary genius and the cold, stark reality of the lives lived within the novel. Only Carver and Richard Ford have handled the subtleties of lower class life with such profound dignity and compassion. The lives in this book are rendered with a tragic pathos.
The novel's structure is so in keeping with the narrative voice, a twice told tale, a cop remembering, reliving a nightmare period in his and the town's life. The sense of retelling, the inevitable tragic outcome gives the book its weight and density. Brilliantly advanced through a sequential telling of events, the narrator brings the mystery to focus through his eyes and fears. We feel the mounting tension and drama. The shortness of the chapters is a compelling stylistic device that keeps this story racing toward an ending that cannot be predicted, but illuminates the power of the author. In a slight of hand, I felt this was not just a murder story, but something deeper. It's elegiac in its compassion but also in its realism, and from my California beach property I was transported for a few days into the far flung denizens of the plains who also call themselves Americans.
After reading the book, its undertow of a book is so strong I went down for a swim, to cleanse myself of the novel. I mean that in a good way. I remember surfacing and looking back at my house and feeling glad my ancestors had moved West with their dreams of gold and the ocean.