True Crime at Its Finest: Lost Girls by Robert Kolker
True crime isn’t something we feature often on MysteryPeople, and yet it is a craze and a phenomenon that has been popular much longer than people have acknowledged. The tradition of the true crime book and its incredible fandom goes back many years, but it’s difficult to place a book that is as popular or widely read as Robert Kolker’s Lost Girls. Lost Girls is special for many reasons, covering the Long Island Serial Killings of recent years. It is popular mostly for its ability to portray the real lives of the women (who did mostly work as sex workers) and how real their plights were, and how effective and ultimately destructive their deaths were.
I first read Kolker’s Lost Girls a year or so ago, but returned to it recently when I needed some comfort. Kolker’s writing style provides that, not just through lyrical sentences and beautiful construction of images and ideas, but largely through the compassion Kolker feels toward these women. If watching movies and tv shows made and developed by men who have turned out to be sexual predators depresses you, you might find solace in Kolker’s brilliant and wonderful understanding of the human mind—and the female mind—in this great book. Kolker does not focus solely on the hunt for the serial killer (or, perhaps, serial killers?). Of course, it is an unsolved mystery to this date, and we may never know the truth about these women’s deaths, as unfortunate as that is for the victims and their families. But that is where Kolker strikes gold in our hearts: he concentrates on the victims, their lives and their hearts, and what made the veins in their bodies pulse as opposed to what eventually ceased all life in them all together.
Kolker somehow remains both neutral and empathetic, showing how sex work is necessary for many individuals who cannot make ends meet, or may seek out the profession for many other reasons (even, perhaps, enjoying the work). The author is nonjudgmental and as fair with the story as he can be, acknowledging the fallacies in people’s own stories and arguments, and meanwhile struggling to uncover the truth for these women. There is definitely a sense that Kolker wants to champion these lost girls, as the title states, long after their deaths, and have them remembered for the brilliant but complicated lives they lived.
Of course, there is a twist. In fact, there may be more than one, but I can’t really tell you that. Why would I spoil what Megan Abbott has claimed is the greatest book of this decade? (Yes, you heard me correctly, she actually said that.) I have purposefully avoided giving details because you need to pick up a copy of this book and give it a try, and you need to reach out to family members and friends and show them the work of Robert Kolker. This is not solely to appreciate the life and work of Kolker himself, but also to remember the women lost to brutality and an America that only cares for privileged women who can be viewed as “victims,” not lost girls.
-Matthew Turbeville, MYSTERYPEOPLE