Joy Fielding - Lost

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Lost In A Bad Book

Apr 19, 2004
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:I never, ever have to read it again.

Cons:Someone should've taken a bloody knife to the protagonist.

The Bottom Line: The Bottom Line whirled, its face contorted in fear. "Where is my daughter?" it shrieked. "What have you done with her?"


A fellow reviewer and friend of mine has confessed a weakness for what she calls “Bloody Knife” books, so named because their covers are usually decorated with garishly illustrated (and, often, metallic-foil-embellished) murder weapons. These stories inevitably feature a sweet, pretty, beloved-by-all woman targeted for a grisly death at the hands of a rapist/killer/criminal mastermind; when the authorities fail to keep her safe, she must go on the lam with a taciturn and hard-boiled P.I. with whom she will fall in love. (The TV movie version of this genre is known as “And No One Could Protect Her.”) As predictable and goofy as these pulp novels are, they’re still entertaining, as long as they stick to the formula and deliver the lurid, low-brow goods. But when Bloody Knife novels aspire to be more than simple, cheesy fun, bad things happen. Case in point: Lost.

Canadian housewife Cindy Carver doesn’t think of herself as a bad mom. Both of her young adult daughters live at home; she allows Heather, the younger, to have a live-in boyfriend, and does her best to stay out of the way of elder sister Julia’s raging temper and self-absorption. But when Julia suddenly vanishes, Cindy is racked with guilt and anxiety, convinced that if she’d been a better mom, she wouldn’t have lost her daughter. Nobody else seems too concerned about the disappearance – Julia is an adult, after all, and it’s not the first time she’s taken off – but Cindy is convinced that something dreadful has happened. When the police seem reluctant to begin an investigation, Cindy puts on her sleuthing cap and heads all over town, breaking into residences, interrogating Julia’s friends and lovers, and attempting to browbeat strangers into confessions of foul play. Along the way, Cindy makes some unpleasant discoveries about her daughter’s private life, but refuses to admit that Julia might not be the innocent angel she’d imagined. Meanwhile, Cindy’s cynical, hostile ex-husband knows more about Julia’s disappearance than they’re letting on. Will Cindy’s amateur detecting lead her to the awful truth?

In nearly every conceivable way, this book is a mess. Cindy is a hysterical, neurotic, overbearing stereotype of the Terrified Mom; any initial sympathy generated by her plight is quickly dispelled by her obnoxiously self-centered behavior. Unable to get past her failed marriage, she snarls whenever her ex’s name is mentioned and acts like a snotty adolescent around his new wife. Her bad behavior gets old fast, especially since the author beats us over the head with it at every opportunity (okay, she’s not over her ex; we get it). If the author is to be believed, Toronto is populated entirely by cliches: the caustic midlife-crisis ex-husband, the moronic trophy wife, the philandering neighbor, the sleazy and exploitative filmmaker. In a book filled with such unpleasant and one-dimensional characters, there’s hardly anyone worth rooting for – certainly not the intended heroine.

Nor does the writing redeem the uninspired plot and tired characters. Hammy, overblown dialogue alternates with lackluster narration; as noted above, the author leans too hard on unfunny shrewish-ex-wife running jokes, at the protagonist’s expense. Glaring typographical errors are common: “expectedly” for “expectantly,” and so on. At times, the prose reads like it was commissioned by the Toronto Chamber of Commerce, so rapturously does it praise the city’s clean streets, polite inhabitants, and multifarious entertainment venues. Despite being completely irrelevant to the plot, the Toronto Film Festival makes several appearances in conversations; Cindy’s social circle of housewife friends can literally talk of nothing else. After all, how important is a vanished daughter when the film festival is in town? Alternating between the excruciatingly boring and the eye-poppingly implausible, the prose is, however, consistent in its inability to make the reader care. Unsurprisingly, the final showdown, when it eventually comes, is a weak, sickly kitten of a climax, shivering and mewling piteously in the cold. Don’t be surprised if it makes you want to shove the book in a sack and drown it in the nearest river.

As Bloody Knife books go, Lost leaves plenty to be desired. If the author had spent more time coming up with a plot, and less time extolling the virtues of her home city, she might have had a better book to show for her efforts. As it stands, no one can protect her from the outrage of readers who expected a fun and entertaining thriller.


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