The New York Times

"In Lost Girls, his first book, Mr. Kolker has grabbed hold of a ghost story, one he grounds in insistent detail.... describing bad childhoods without pressing down too grimly, without becoming maudlin or overly condemning of the situations people have found themselves in.... His book becomes a lashing critique of how society, and the police, let these young women down.... Reading this true-crime book, you’re reminded of the observation that easy reading is hard writing."

- Dwight Garner, THE NEW YORK TIMES 

The New Yorker

“Lost Girls” tells the story of the unsolved murders of five young women, all of whom worked as escorts in the New York area, and all of whose remains were discovered off the highway on one of Long Island’s barrier islands in 2010 and 2011. Kolker, an investigative reporter and contributing editor at New York who previously covered the case for that magazine, presents the myriad rumors and theories about the perpetrator, known as the Long Island Serial Killer, that emerged once the women’s bodies—and then even more bodies—were discovered. (On the book’s Web site, an interactive map shows the area of Long Island, in and around Gilgo Beach, where, since 2010, eleven sets of human remains have been discovered; several others have turned up in other parts of Long Island.) But detailing the still unresolved case is only one focus of the book. Through extensive interviews with the victims’ families and friends, Kolker creates compassionate portraits of the murdered young women, and uncovers the forces that drove them from their respective home towns into risky, but lucrative, careers as prostitutes in a digital age, when “the method is easier, seductively so, almost like an ATM—post an ad, and the phone rings seconds later—but also deceptive about its dangers.”

- "Books To Watch Out For," NEWYORKER.COM

Boston Globe

 "Kolker, a contributing editor at New York magazine who has written about the murders in those pages, draws us in with his captivating storyteller’s voice.... Book Two is where “Lost Girls” becomes hard to put down: an intrigue about Oak Beach that has echoes of Kitty Genovese, and of the Hatfields and McCoys. Who knew what, and who did what, the morning that Shannan Gilbert was desperate for their help? Did the local doctor kill her, as some of his neighbors insist? Why, exactly, did the doctor call Gilbert’s mother after the escort disappeared, then deny having done so? And how badly did law enforcement drop the ball on those five murders? Kolker can only try to answer those questions. But his convincing takeaway is both an indictment — of all of us, for our role as societal bystanders to prostitution — and a challenge."

- Laura Collins-Hughes, BOSTON GLOBE 

The Guardian

"By learning the intimate details of the women's lives, seeing them as humans rather than victims, we see our similarities. The "us" and "them" that the stigmatization of sex work in society creates begins to erode. 

"Society has a way of devaluing sex workers of all kinds (whether strippers, escorts or porn actors). Most of us engage in it to some degree at some point in our lives, yet we moralize, we judge and we blame. Although prostitution is criminalized in most parts of the US, sex-for-money services are in-demand. (How else could one make a living this way?) Still, the choices of those who offer them are scrutinized and stigmatized. For a sex worker to report violence against her is to risk further violence. If Gilbert had been raped and beaten but survived, would the police have been any more help?

"There is something intensely wrong with a society in which human beings can disappear, only to be discovered years later as bones. There is something even more wrong when the bones' connection to prostitution is somehow used to justify their fates. The role, legality and implications of sex work is a complicated dialogue, but one that should be happening more often, more loudly and more inclusively – because whatever system is currently in place is clearly not functional.

"Kolker's book is a starting point for that dialogue because it is possibly the realest, fullest picture of what is happening with sex work in the US right now. Other than hoping that their killer is someday arrested, the most we can offer these women now is our time to read and understand their lives, our thoughts to consider our own role in the society that failed them, and how the next time might be different. "

Jessica Mack, THE GUARDIAN


BN Review

"...the most nuanced, complex portrayal of prostitution in America I've ever read from a mainstream journalist.... Indelible little details like that aren't just the mark of good reporting; they're the sign of a reporter who actually wants to describe these women as they were, not as ciphers in a story as old as Jack the Ripper, targets waiting to be hit."



"Kolker has turned what started as a story in New York magazine into a thorough inquiry into what sex work actually entails and why women get into it, taking no mercy at dissecting both the socioeconomic and cultural forces that can push people into the choice of sex work. Sex work is continually the subject of controversy, the main talking points that seem always forcibly split into two opposing voices: those who think it is always a choice, and those who think it is never a choice. In a contradictory playing field of good versus bad, right and wrong, woman that you marry and woman that you pay to fuck, Kolker works past the stigma and stereotype, and has paid attention to the very real, very complicated situation that has no easy answers. Furthermore, he pays attention with an unblemished empathy, in the way that one does when there is a very important story that needs to be passed on, not as a warning or talking point, but as a remembrance that sheds light on subjects that we don't want to discuss in good company."

- Coco Papy, BOOKSLUT

"Readers looking for a storybook ending would be better off watching one of those television crime programs where the killer is caught, tried and sentenced in an hour, but true crime buffs who can appreciate a real mystery, enjoy complex crime stories and prefer human drama to gore and cheap thrills will love Lost Girls."

"Life After Death in ‘Lost Girls’: On the Victims of the Long Island Serial Killer," Matt Staggs, BIOGRAPHILE

The Seattle Times

"Kolker’s handling of these cases — and his treatment of five women who turned up dead after disappearing between 2007 and 2010 — is anything but lurid. With writing that is spare, almost muted, Kolker details the women’s childhoods and choices, tracing their steps from such scattered towns as Groton, Conn.; Ellenville, N.Y.; and Wilmington, N.C., through a series of low-paying jobs (cleaning offices, delivering pizzas, running a cash register), to working as prostitutes in the Internet age, advertising on Craigslist and making $4,500 a week or more. Through Kolker’s sensitive telling, these five women become people in full, as likable and unlikable as most people you meet, but with more to overcome."

- Ken Armstrong, SEATTLE TIMES 

Amazon Best Books of the Month, July 2013

As you might expect from the story of a serial killer who preys on prostitutes, the young women in Robert Kolker’s enthralling Lost Girls were already, in many ways, lost. Prostitutes and runaways, their murders might have easily elicited a what-did-they-expect shrug. (Certainly that’s how the police at times seemed to handle the case). What sets Lost Girls apart is Kolker’s empathetic and detailed portrayals of the victims, based on hundreds of hours of interviews with their families and friends. This is an impressive and impassioned work of investigative journalism, and a chilling commentary on the entangled influences of economics, race, technology and politics on sex and murder in the Internet age. Kolker, a reporter for New York magazine, is that rare-breed journalist who latched onto a difficult story and refused to let go. In this haunting tale, he bravely and meticulously recreates the lives of once hopeful but sadly forgotten young women, while shining a light on the economic hardships that pushed them to make tough, risky choices. A colleague told me that after finishing Lost Girls she spent hours researching the victims and the case online. Her warning to me is my promise to you: Be prepared to obsess.

 --Neal Thompson, AMAZON.COM

Publisher's Weekly

(starred review)


In stark contrast to the ugliness of the story, Kolker’s sad tale of five young women linked by the tragic circumstances of their disappearances is beautifully and provocatively written. The book opens with a prologue that casts an appropriately eerie pall on the proceedings: after arriving late one spring night at Long Island’s Oak Beach, Shannan Gilbert, an escort who was in the area to see a client, began banging on doors and screaming for help. Her pleas went unanswered, and then she disappeared. That was in 2010. Seven months later, the corpses of four women—also escorts—were found nearby. Kolker, a contributing editor at New York magazine, outlines each woman’s descent into a world “that many of their loved ones could not imagine,” and in doing so renders each as fully fleshed out individuals forced to make tough decisions to navigate a tough world. Just the right amount of detail 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.

Reviewed on: 04/22/2013

Publisher's Weekly