Friday, March 24, 2017

Kirk Stevens and Carla Windermere Seek Justice for the Forgotten Girls

This is another excellent entry in Owen Laukkanen's series featuring Kirk Stevens of the Minnesota BCA and Carla Windermere of the F.B.I. This case finds the pair far from the comforts of home in Minnesota, working along the "High Line" of western Montana, Idaho and Washington in the middle of a brutally cold and snowy winter.

Over the space of several years, a number of women and girls have gone missing or have turned up dead along the route of what was, historically, the Great Northern Railroad and which Laukkanen fictionalizes as the Northwestern Railroad, running along the northern rim of the U.S., from Chicago to Seattle. The victims were mostly from the lower classes--Native Americans, waitresses, prostitutes, addicts and others--women that few people would miss and that a lot of people, including their friends and families, always assumed would come to a bad end.

No one sees a pattern here, though, until Stevens and Windermere begin tracking the case of a young "train hopper," one of a group of men and women who travel around the country by hopping rides on trains. Rumors have long spread among among female hoppers that bad things happen to women riding the High Line, and the conventional wisdom is that no woman should ever ride the High Line alone.

Stevens and Windermere come into the case when a photo surfaces on the phone of a Minnesota man showing the body of a young woman who has been attacked, killed and abandoned along the High Line. The two then learn that a girlfriend of the young victim is headed toward the site where the body was found, determined to smoke out the killer and ignoring all the warnings about riding the High Line by herself. Stevens and Windermere are soon hot on the trail of the young woman, and of the killer known as The Rider, hoping against all odds that they can smoke out the killer before another young woman falls into his clutches.

Complicating matters considerably is the fact that the story takes place in the dead of a brutal winter with freezing temperatures and one blizzard after another. For a while, Steven and Windermere find themselves trapped in a tiny town with no Internet or cell phone access, unable to move while the killer is closing in on another victim.

It's a riveting tale with a number of well-drawn and interesting characters. As always, it's fun to watch Stevens and Windermere work the case, and Laukkanen does a fantastic job setting the scene. His description of the snow storms and the freezing weather are especially vivid and even though I was reading the book outdoors on an eighty-five-degree day in the Arizona desert, I still felt like I ought to be making myself a large hot chocolate or at least pouring a tumbler of whisky to ward off the cold. All in all, another very good read.

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