Halstead’s The Lost Girls: A Short Review

I’m here again, with the latest review (aka ‘what I’ve learned’) of free ebooks that I’ve come across on Amazon.  The latest is a futuristic thriller/neo-noir called The Lost Girls —another offering from Jason Halstead, author of Wanted.  It takes on a very different tone to the post-apocalyptic Wanted in the sense that it follows the life of a woman who is making her way in a post-dimensional portal world.  Kat Wimple is a bionic woman who works for Phoenix’s privatized police firm.  She is a bit of a lone wolf, though not averse to the occasional lesbian liaison.  That said, she’s the kind of woman who falls in and out of love.

Halstead begins his book right in the thick of the action (en media res, for you English majors out there).  After an assignment ends with her rape, Kat encounters Natalie, a bi-curious (perhaps) psychotherapist in need of a private detective.  Kat’s encounters with Nat lead down one treacherous road after another and, as Kat is trying to recover from one such accident, she falls upon another mishap.  Ultimately, this shows her remarkable endurance and tenacity; despite being raped, mutilated, and impaled, Kat willingly puts herself right back in the face of danger.  The fact that these dangers occur so rapidly not only speaks to her wild-eyed grit, but also to the type of breakneck pace that the author is trying to maintain. 

At one point, Kat looks down and realizes that she’s naked below the waist; it happens that rapidly.  Admittedly, this last example is an example of a bad transition, and there are a few of those that populated this book, probably for the purpose of slimming it down and making it sleeker.  At one point, Kat doesn’t realize that she was burned, and at another she pieces together the circumstances of an arson all too quickly.  However, I’d say that the author overall has a good sense of pace; Kat’s dialogue shows her personality and helps move the plot forward.  There are a few oddly expository pieces of dialogue at the beginning of the novel, but they quickly was away to dialogue that seems natural enough, particularly for the genre.  Overall, the author gives a strong example of first person action, which is something that I’ve definitely struggled with in the past, and continues to churn active scenes out with great rapidity.

Transitions can be a problem, but that happens with ever well-intentioned author at some point in time.  For instance, I took a few short story writing courses in college that involved writer’s workshops, and one thing that I inevitably saw was the awkward transition in order to move the plot forward.  One might have gone from shopping to a rock concert to realizing that these experiences didn’t build toward anything, while another might have gone from two people having a bite at a café to one of them shooting the other and dragging them down to her Inquisition era dungeon to be with other men she’s captured.   The point is, there’s natural transitions and then there’s unnatural ones; natural ones move the plot forward while still building upon what you know and what you need to know.  Unnatural transitions remove the exposition, and almost overlay point A and point B.

Some of Halstead’s readers said that there was too much exposition and too much foreshadowing, but I’d wager that there wasn’t enough in some respects.  For instance, the Dark World, the other side of the dimensional rift, becomes relevant in some parts of the story, but other parts of the story leave you almost forgetting that it exists.  Meanwhile, there is plenty of evidence of how Kat is the bionic woman, but not nearly as much ‘why.’  We get a lot of why she’s a lesbian (a five-foot-three, athletic, dominant type), but not a lot of insight into where this fits into her life, aside from her encounters with a couple of different women.  We get red herrings and plenty of reason to doubt some of the other characters at the opportune times, but the track records don’t always match with the reactions.  Some exposition about Kat’s attitudes might have helped in this respect, while other interactions with these characters would have helped forge a greater understanding of the web of characters that we encounter.

Speaking of building (forging), one of the important aspects of any book is the world building.  This varies from book to book.  Any one of us can imagine what it’s like at the Bob, the home of the Diamondbacks; many of us who haven’t been there ourselves have seen it on television or heard enough to form a mental image of what it must be like.   At the same time, very few of us know what it must be like at 4406-C Van Arsdale Way, Phoenix.  We don’t know that the backyard has a ten foot tall fence that’s intended to separate a daycare from an over-55 community, or that it’s so hot in July that most people either stay in air conditioned homes or go to air conditioned malls so that they don’t have to worry so much about the heat, or that it can actually get cold in the desert because of the high altitude and the fact that it isn’t close to any substantial body of water.  Sure, these aren’t necessarily germane to a thriller, and a thriller definitely shouldn’t provide all of this in one large block of text, but there are nuanced ways of approaching this world building.  Ultimately, what you want to do is remind your readers of how this world is different from theirs.  For instance, in The Lost Girls, I almost forgot about the Dark World storyline, and there were moments where the whole reason for the title seemed to take a back seat only to rear its head again a dozen pages down the road.

I’ve been in the habit of building out these 180k+ word behemoths, and I’d imagine that The Lost Girls must clock in at about 50-60k.  Due to the pace and brevity, I feel like there’s a lot I can learn from this book.  The author covers a lot of ground, despite having a book that is probably less than 250 pages.  Because of the way that I write, that’s really hard for me to do.  Sure, there could have been improvements to characterization, transitions, and world-building, but I can see where it’d be hard to reconcile these with the go-go-go nature of the plot.

Would I read another book in this series? Probably not.  I wasn’t very sympathetic to Kat, even though I felt like I should have been (after all, she’d been raped and mutilated).  Would I read more by Halstead? Probably.  Despite various flaws I’ve noted, I think he does a very good job of getting a character’s voice down as well as establishing the mood & tone of the two texts that I’ve read.

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