Lost Girls by Robert Kolker
An Unsolved American Mystery

71%

27 Critic Reviews

...a captivating true crime narrative that’s sure to win new converts and please longtime fans of the genre.
-Publishers Weekly

Synopsis

Award-winning investigative reporter Robert Kolker delivers a haunting and humanizing account of the true-life search for a serial killer still at large on Long Island, in a compelling tale of unsolved murder and Internet prostitution.

One late spring evening in 2010, Shannan Gilbert, after running through the oceanfront community of Oak Beach screaming for her life, went missing. No one who had heard of her disappearance thought much about what had happened to the twenty-four-year-old: she was a Craigslist prostitute who had been fleeing a scene—of what, no one could be sure. The Suffolk County Police, too, seemed to have paid little attention—until seven months later, when an unexpected discovery in a bramble alongside a nearby highway turned up four bodies, all evenly spaced, all wrapped in burlap. But none of them Shannan's.

There was Maureen Brainard-Barnes, last seen at Penn Station in Manhattan three years earlier, and Melissa Barthelemy, last seen in the Bronx in 2009. There was Megan Waterman, last seen leaving a hotel in Hauppage, Long Island, just a month after Shannan's disappearance in 2010, and Amber Lynn Costello, last seen leaving a house in West Babylon a few months later that same year. Like Shannan, all four women were petite and in their twenties, they all came from out of town to work as escorts, and they all advertised on Craigslist and its competitor, Backpage.

In a triumph of reporting—and in a riveting narrative—Robert Kolker presents the first detailed look at the shadow world of escorts in the Internet age, where making a living is easier than ever and the dangers remain all too real. He has talked exhaustively with the friends and family of each woman to reveal the three-dimensional truths about their lives, the struggling towns they came from, and the dreams they chased. And he has gained unique access to the Oak Beach neighborhood that has found itself the focus of national media scrutiny—where the police have flailed, the body count has risen, and the neighbors have begun pointing fingers at one another. There, in a remote community, out of sight of the beaches and marinas scattered along the South Shore barrier islands, the women's stories come together in death and dark mystery. Lost Girls is a portrait not just of five women, but of unsolved murder in an idyllic part of America, of the underside of the Internet, and of the secrets we keep without admitting to ourselves that we keep them.

 

About Robert Kolker

See more books from this Author
Robert Kolker is a contributing editor at New York Magazine, where he writes about crime and punishment. He has been short-listed for the National Magazine Award. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
 
Published July 9, 2013 by Harper. 421 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Self Help, Parenting & Relationships, Health, Fitness & Dieting. Non-fiction
Bestseller Status:
icon12
Peak Rank on Apr 17 2016
icon2
Weeks as Bestseller
Bookmark Counts:
3
Want to Read
Add Critic Review

Critic reviews for Lost Girls
All: 27 | Positive: 22 | Negative: 5

Kirkus

Good
on Apr 08 2013

An important examination of the socioeconomic and cultural forces that can shape a woman’s entry into prostitution.

Read Full Review of Lost Girls: An Unsolved Ameri... | See more reviews from Kirkus

NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Dwight Garner on Jul 16 2013

His book becomes a lashing critique of how society, and the police, let these young women down. He is particularly good on the case of Ms. Gilbert...

Read Full Review of Lost Girls: An Unsolved Ameri... | See more reviews from NY Times

NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Mimi Swartz on Jul 03 2013

...a compelling, nearly unputdownable narrative of the case and its attendant issues; a horrific, cautionary tale that makes for a very different type of beach read.

Read Full Review of Lost Girls: An Unsolved Ameri... | See more reviews from NY Times

Guardian

Above average
Reviewed by Jessica Mack on Aug 06 2013

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.

Read Full Review of Lost Girls: An Unsolved Ameri... | See more reviews from Guardian

Publishers Weekly

Excellent
on Apr 22 2013

...a captivating true crime narrative that’s sure to win new converts and please longtime fans of the genre.

Read Full Review of Lost Girls: An Unsolved Ameri... | See more reviews from Publishers Weekly

Star Tribune

Good
Reviewed by Gayla Marty on Jul 29 2013

His human portraits are sharp yet compassionate, rendered in rough language and complicated by subplots of addiction and economic hardship.

Read Full Review of Lost Girls: An Unsolved Ameri... | See more reviews from Star Tribune

Book Reporter

Above average
Reviewed by Rebecca Kilberg on Aug 02 2013

In the end, it’s uncertain if anyone included here is responsible for the murders, and the cases remain unsolved. What LOST GIRLS does uncover is an extremely dysfunctional and dangerous business model that places all players in harm’s way, and an underworld that is awfully hard to pull yourself out of.

Read Full Review of Lost Girls: An Unsolved Ameri...

Washington Times

Above average
Reviewed by Muriel Dobbin on Aug 15 2013

In “Lost Girls,” Robert Kolker exhaustively investigates the tragedy of five girls who fell victim to the allegedly victimless crime of prostitution. His grim chronicle sounds a warning that the pimp patrolling the street may seem no more of a menace than the invisible murderer...

Read Full Review of Lost Girls: An Unsolved Ameri... | See more reviews from Washington Times

Globe and Mail

Good
Reviewed by Patrick White on Jul 19 2013

This is a good and brave book and one that, if you’re anything like me, will make you hate yourself just a little bit.

Read Full Review of Lost Girls: An Unsolved Ameri... | See more reviews from Globe and Mail

National Post arts

Good
Reviewed by Philip Marchand on Jul 19 2013

Lost Girls, then, is partly unsolved mystery, complete with suspicious characters...The book is also the intimate story of the five women, whose unhappy childhoods and tangled family lives and eventual careers in the sex trade are exhaustively chronicled by Kolker.

Read Full Review of Lost Girls: An Unsolved Ameri... | See more reviews from National Post arts

The Seattle Times

Good
Reviewed by Ken Armstrong on Jul 21 2013

Reporting on an open case can be difficult, because of limited access to law-enforcement records. But Kolker’s reporting shimmers; his narrative details pop, showing how immersed he became in the killings and their aftermath.

Read Full Review of Lost Girls: An Unsolved Ameri...

USA Today

Below average
Reviewed by Don Oldenburg on Jul 18 2013

Unlike the true-crime benchmark, Truman Capote's 1966 masterpiece In Cold Blood, Kolker's narrative maintains questionable and frustrating neutrality toward the dismal lives of the victims as well as their often enabling families and not-so-innocent friends.

Read Full Review of Lost Girls: An Unsolved Ameri...

Oregon Live

Above average
Reviewed by NANCY ROMMELMANN on Aug 17 2013

Kolker disabuses the reader of this comfort. He introduces us to Gilbert, to Maureen Brainard-Barnes and Melissa Barthelemy, to Megan Waterman and Amber Lynn Costello; girls who did not know each other in life but were brought together in death. Kolker has given them voice.

Read Full Review of Lost Girls: An Unsolved Ameri...

Review (Barnes & Noble)

Good
Reviewed by Michelle Dean on Jul 25 2013

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.

Read Full Review of Lost Girls: An Unsolved Ameri...

The Columbus Dispatch

Good
Reviewed by Karen Long on Jul 28 2013

Kolker seems careful not to critique prostitution. But we hear the howl of the victims’ families clearly enough.

Read Full Review of Lost Girls: An Unsolved Ameri...

Newsday

Above average
Reviewed by Karen Long on Jul 10 2013

His writing is clean and his tone controlled...This isn't pleasant reading, but it never feels gratuitous. "Lost Girls" is lifted by its strong, subtle design...

Read Full Review of Lost Girls: An Unsolved Ameri...

The Washington Post

Above average
Reviewed by Patrick Anderson on Jul 07 2013

The moral I draw from this richly detailed, terribly sad book is that, since prostitution will never be eliminated, it should be legalized. If people who work as prostitutes were employed by well-regulated brothels, like those that exist in Nevada, they would be far safer...

Read Full Review of Lost Girls: An Unsolved Ameri...

Macleans

Above average
Reviewed by Brian Bethune on Jul 26 2013

Irony is not Kolker’s aim in this beautifully written and profoundly sad account of the dark side of technological and social change. The incomplete nature of his story, the absence of an arrested killer, might seem to weaken the book’s impact, but it allows Kolker to focus on the victims...

Read Full Review of Lost Girls: An Unsolved Ameri...

Salon

Good
Reviewed by Laura Miller on Jun 30 2013

It’s the empty freakishness of the serial killer that makes him superficially fascinating, the stuff that so much bad pulp fiction and so many trashy documentaries are made of. It takes a rarer, more humane and imaginative writer to show the dented magnificence and universal sorrow within ordinary lives...

Read Full Review of Lost Girls: An Unsolved Ameri...

Journal Sentinel

Below average
Reviewed by Gina Barton on Aug 09 2013

...in its second half, "Lost Girls" loses its way, switching from fascinating biography to at times preachy social commentary about prostitution in the age of the Internet.

Read Full Review of Lost Girls: An Unsolved Ameri...

New York Observer

Above average
Reviewed by Jordan Michael Smith on Jul 09 2013

As much as Mr. Kolker wants to show their individuality, his narrative structure has the opposite effect. That flaw aside, Lost Girls is a model of how a true-crime author can simultaneously write a riveting book and do justice to crime victims while highlighting an underreported issue.

Read Full Review of Lost Girls: An Unsolved Ameri...

Star News Online

Good
Reviewed by Ben Steelman on Aug 04 2013

"Lost Girls" will add fodder to the current debate over human trafficking and whether prostitution should be legalized. One thing is clear, though: These five victims will never be faceless again.

Read Full Review of Lost Girls: An Unsolved Ameri...

LongIslandPress.com

Below average
on May 06 2016

Whether the not-so-flattering portrayals in this book are deserved or not, it feels the reader is being told things that no one has a right to know. To state in print, no matter who the source, that one victim “despised her mother” seems unfair and unnecessary...As a book, Lost Girls is a good read...

Read Full Review of Lost Girls: An Unsolved Ameri...

National Post arts

Good
Reviewed by Philip Marchand on Jul 19 2013

A true crime narrative should make your flesh crawl. Robert Kolker’s Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Tragedy, the story of five prostitutes murdered by a serial killer, or killers, operating in Long Island in recent years, fits that bill.

Read Full Review of Lost Girls: An Unsolved Ameri... | See more reviews from National Post arts

Journey of a Bookseller

Above average
Reviewed by Jo Ann Hakola on Jul 21 2013

If you like true crime, this book will fascinate you. There is no marvelous revelation of the killer in this story. It's just the sordid facts about how these women got into prostitution and how they died...

Read Full Review of Lost Girls: An Unsolved Ameri...

Words to Read By

Above average
Reviewed by sbk on Jun 03 2013

Despite the lack of concrete details, this book does a decent job of covering the murders. This is an unsolved and open investigation, so there's no way many police details could be included. The fact that this murderer(s) is still loose is alarming to me.

Read Full Review of Lost Girls: An Unsolved Ameri...

Crime Segments Blog

Good
Reviewed by NancyO on Jul 19 2013

If you've been on the fence about this one, or if you've been thinking you'd wait to see what other people have to say, wait no more.

Read Full Review of Lost Girls: An Unsolved Ameri...

Reader Rating for Lost Girls
73%

An aggregated and normalized score based on 410 user ratings from iDreamBooks & iTunes


Rate this book!

Add Review

Reader reviews & activity

User Review

Celine Smith 1 Aug 2013

Rated the book as 3 out of 5

Gabriela Ci

Gabriela Ci 21 May 2014

Added the book to want to read list

mareth

mareth 3 Nov 2013

Added the book to want to read list

Karen Russo

Karen Russo 5 Sep 2013

Added the book to want to read list

×