Declan Hughes’ most recent book, CITY OF LOST GIRLS, is different from the previous Ed Loy books. The deranged people who have been a large part of his life are still there but on the edges of the story. In this book, Loy is dealing with a different kind of deranged killer, one who is a predator, enticing his victims by offering them help in the movie world where the line between pretense and reality is virtually impossible to define.
Jack Donovan (who seems to be a combination of Neal Jordan, James Cameron, Steven Spielberg, and David Lynch) is a highly successful and acclaimed movie director whose career began with art house movies and progressed to the big screen and the big money. For most of his career, Donovan has worked in California and it was in California, 15 years earlier, that Ed Loy first met him. They met in a bar and one night Donovan decided to give Loy a part in the movie he was filming. Loy enjoys his 30 seconds of on-screen fame and when Donovan contacts him for help because three extras on his film have disappeared, Loy does his best to find them. The girls where run-aways from different parts of the US and it is only Donovan who notices they are gone and files the missing person reports. Loy has no luck finding them, Donovan’s movie is finished, and Loy returns to Ireland.
All these years later, Donovan has returned to make a movie set in Dublin and the two men resume their friendship. When Donovan asks Loy to look into some anonymous letters he has been receiving, Loy is willing and starts asking questions, learning as does that he doesn’t know anything about Jack Donovan at all. Then, Donovan’s assistant contacts Ed. An extra on the film has disappeared, and then another. Donovan has developed a style over the years, one in which he focuses on the faces of three minor players and the disappearance of the girls, unavailable now for filming, puts the movie in jeopardy. Loy decides he needs to put the third girl in hiding. Donovan and Loy realize that this is a repeat of what happened in California and Loy sees all too clearly, that if the two incidents are connected there are only four suspects. The first is Jack Donovan, the second is Mark Cassidy, the cinematographer, the third is Conor Rowan, the assistant director, and the fourth is Maurice Faye, the producer of all Donovan’s films. The Gang of Four are the only people who were at the sites of all the disappearances.
Perhaps Kate and Nora did go off to party and will return, apologetically, in their own good time and continue their work on the film. Loy doesn’t know how the anonymous letters and the disappearances of the girls are connected but he senses, as he did in California, that these girls are gone for good.
Hughes intersperses the narrative with the thoughts of the murderer but he doesn’t give anything away about the identity until he is ready to let the reader in on the secret. There is less overt brutality in this book but the body count is higher. I think it is the best book of the series.