New Nonfiction: Lost Girls – Robert Kolker

Those booksellers who have followed (or been subjected to) my tastes over the years know I’m not generally a true crime reader. But when this book started piling up starred reviews—three in total—I went back for a more careful look.

Less true crime than a page-turning sociology, Lost Girls covers the lurid “Craig’s List Murders.” But rather than focusing on the possible perpetrator, author Kolker chooses to look at the lives of the victims. The result is an eye-opening indictment of lower middle class desperation in modern America.

Very solid publicity should give this book some velocity. Keep an eye on it and make sure it’s out where customers can find it when the major media hits: NYTBR on 7/7, CBS/This Morning on 7/12 and CBS/48 Hours on 7/13. It’s also been picked by Parade as one of their best books of the summer and reviews are forthcoming from USA Today, the New York Observer, Newsday and the Boston Globe.

“Robert Kolker unflinchingly probes the 21st-century innovations that facilitated these crimes… …An important examination of the socioeconomic and cultural forces that can shape a woman’s entry into prostitution.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Beautifully and provocatively written…. [Lost Girls] will make all but the hardest-hearted empathetic. Add a baffling whodunit that remains, as the subtitle indicates, unsolved, and you have a captivating true crime narrative that’s sure to win new converts and please longtime fans of the genre.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Robert Kolker’s Lost Girls is reportage at the highest level; it’s miss-your-bedtime storytelling; it’s the real story of the lives and deaths of real, unfortunate women. Most of all, it’s a kind of State of the Union — if you think (and you will, by the end of this book) that the sex trade and crime and suburban desperation tell us more than just about anything about American life as it’s lived today. It’s a wonder.”
— Darin Strauss, author of Half a Life

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Publisher’s Weekly ran an illuminating interview with Kolker. You get a flavor for the author’s perspective from observations like this:

[E]verything that was commonly assumed about them was wrong. They weren’t outcasts. They stayed in close touch with their families—their mothers and sisters, and, in some cases, boyfriends and children. These weren’t classic cases of human trafficking, either; they weren’t kidnapped or enslaved or held hostage as undocumented immigrants. What they had in common was that they all came from parts of the country the media overlooks—poor,struggling areas where becoming a prostitute might not have been the most desirable path, yet somehow has become a valid, almost normal option. What made the choice to be an escort easier than ever was [Web sites like] Craigslist and Backpage. Prostitutes no longer have to walk the streets or even work with agencies or pimps. The backdrop of an open murder case offered an ideal opportunity to write about the story of five young women’s lives and their families in a way that would make people rethink the mythology and clichés that our culture projects onto prostitution.”

Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery (9780062183637) Robert Kolker. $25.99 hardcover. 7/9/13 on sale.