Sheena Kamal’s The Lost Ones is a brilliant surprise, a perfect combination of noir thriller and literary suspense that begins in Hastings Street, Vancouver, a place filled with needles and junkies, where gray sky and gray water appear for months on end. Kamal plunges us into the depths of a murderer’s murky narcissism when Nora, her feisty heroine, gets a call from a man called Everett Walsh. Everett and his long-suffering wife, Lynn are desperate. Their daughter Bonnie has been missing for almost two weeks. Lynn is at the end of her rope;
the police have been no help. There are few clues to Bonnie’s whereabouts, apart from the fact that she was looking for her biological parents online--a
rather ironic situation, considering that Nora gave up Bonnie for adoption fifteen years ago.
“I’m a bad influence, they blame me for her dabbling in alcohol and drugs,” says rebellious Nora, who wonders why Everett Walsh has gone out of his way to contact her.
He is obviously grasping at straws. Also, Bonnie’s history as a runaway has
jeopardized any serious investigation into her disappearance. Fueled by a sense
of loyalty to her daughter and pity for her adopted parents, Nora decides to take the case. Embarking on a project of professional night-time surveillance, Nora begins to discern of a series of metaphorical monsters.
She doesn’t want to let herself think of Bonnie: “I don’t even know the girl. What I see is my sister Lorelei’s face.”
Nora’s troubled relationship with Lorelei is just one of many factors that have plagued her in a life that has steadily spiraled downward. Beaten, raped and left for dead, Nora was quickly ushered into a survivor’s support group. Troubled and brittle, sober off and on for thirteen years and celibate for just as long, Nora owns no property and has no friends.
She chooses instead to spend her nights wandering the streets of Vancouver with no one to love except her beloved dog, Whisper. Nora’s only real connection is to her ex-sponsor, Steve Brazuca, whose reserved and self-depreciating nature belie the fact that he’s an accomplished detective.
This receptionist and research assistant for a private investigation outfit has guts and a big mouth, and her word carries fast in this town.
Her two bosses, Leo and Seb, trust her opinion. This business about the kidnapping and then a breakin at a high-level security firm at first comes across as a sort of “gangster cliché.” So much more than just a taciturn woman who sits on the sidelines, Nora's connection to Bonnie stems from her memories of
waking up in the hospital--hazy recollections of blood on a sheet, the earth in a forest, and her face pressed into the fabric of her shroud.
The drama moves from the streets of Vancouver, to a luxurious ski chalet high up in the mountains of British Columba to showdown on Vancouver Island. It is an exciting,
even action-packed situation: the damaged middle-aged investigator who has seen
much darkness and survived being left for dead, and the sophisticated, weirdly attractive man who has a connection to the powerful Asian immigrant community. The pivotal break in the case comes when Nora confronts Mandy, Bonnie’s sometime-friend who tells her about the money given to Tommy Jones, Bonnie’s “asshole boyfriend.” Tommy becomes one of Bonnie’s “dirty little secrets” in a complicated case that will lead Nora into the orbit of the powerful Ray Zhang, a “back-channel man” and mineral investor who has built an empire
by using subversive methods.
Nora is lucky to be employed by Leo and Seb, who don’t ask too many questions and don’t mind her camping out in their basement. The stakes are high; from the killing of a journalist
to the attempted shooting of Tommy in the snow-filled woods, Nora is blessed
with determination and single-mindedness. For the first time, she glimpses that her love for Bonnie is complicated by circumstances and by the crushing feeling that comes from her years of sobriety. Kamal does a great job of showing the bond between Nora and Steve, the alcoholic and her sponsor, their promises of secrecy and their cat-and-mouse game as Steve frantically tracks Nora into the wilds of British Columbia. Nora’s fraught relationship with Lorelei and her seeming inability to drag herself away from people
who more than often seem to get her in trouble add another layer to an already psychologically astute thriller.
Nora reminds me a lot of Renee Ballard, the down-on-her-luck heroine of Michael Connolly’s
The Late Show. Both women know how to fight back, and Nora--just like Renee--has vast reserves of deep, dark heartache. Kamal certainly packs a solid punch in the way she displays Nora’s willingness to survive at all costs, even after obscuring herself in a dark and often loveless cloak of desperation and world-weariness.