In 1942 one of the great American writers of noir criminal fiction, Cornell Woolrich (using the pen name William Irish), published an outstanding thriller, Phantom Lady. In it, an innocent man is arrested for murder and sentenced to be executed. One woman can provide him with an alibi, but no one (including the arrested man) really knows who she is, where she is, and if she even exists. Rio Youers has written a Phantom Lady for our times easily rivaling Cornell Woolrich’s suspenseful writing and plot twists that is sure to be a classic.
The Forgotten Girl (2017) introduces readers to twenty-six-year-old Harvey Anderson who comes home from an ordinary day as a street entertainer to find his apartment rifled and is unexpectedly assailed by strangers who violently beat him, wanting him to give them information. “Cooperate and we’ll let you go. Hold back and we’ll kill you.” The toughs want to know where Sally Starling is. Sally. Harvey’s girlfriend for six years. Sally. A woman whose name and signature appears next to Harvey’s on his apartment’s rental agreement. Sally. A girl whose photograph Harvey does not recognize. Sally. A woman nowhere in sight, who has disappeared leaving no possessions behind and nothing on Harvey’s computer or cell phone. Sally. Someone of whom Harvey has absolutely no memory. Proceeding under the assumption that Sally has “performed her little party trick on you,” the thugs take Harvey to a man who might be able to get to the heart of what Harvey has forgotten—what has been erased from his mind, and Harvey’s nightmare begins for real.
It is simply impossible to identify the greatest strength as a writer Rio Youers incorporates in The Forgotten Girl because there are so many. Among them is his story telling and narrative skills. Throughout the novel, the pacing is incredible. The opening of The Forgotten Girl opens dramatically and there is never a lackluster moment in the story. Youers beautifully builds suspense all through the novel and expertly inserts flashbacks to heighten the novel’s suspense and to provide relevant and revealing background information. There are plausible, unexpected plot twists in abundance. They are dramatic and can suddenly become violent leaving the reader always wondering and anticipating what is going to happen next.
Youers’ characters are realistic and through believable dialogue, the actions they take, and the circumstances in which they are thrust readers will find themselves caring very much for the characters. Harvey Anderson is no common action hero figure, but an “every man” caught in extraordinary instances. His repetition of, “I’m not a coward,” reinforces that he is not used to the life changes that have suddenly been forced upon him, the fact that he doesn’t always know how to proceed, but also his willingness to perform exceptional acts—all traits which endure him to the reader. In spite of her incredible abilities, Sally Starling is no stereotypical character, either. Like Harvey, she comes across as real flesh and blood—filled with anxieties, love, determination, deeply entrenched personal values, and a strong desire to survive without harm coming to the few people she has allowed herself to care about, for their sake. For as fast paced and dramatic of a thriller that is The Forgotten Girl, Youers creates one of the most meaningful, heart-felt love stories any reader could desire between these two individuals.
The minor characters in The Forgotten Girl are given the same treatment as the major characters. Not a single one of them, be it a police chief or an owner of a small café Harvey has long known, is a shell or mere tool of convenience used by the author. Notably, Harvey’s dad, Gordon, is brilliant, but eccentric; “on a different level of crazy.” Pretty much estranged from his father, when Harvey turns to him for help, love overcomes the years and personal distance and the regard between father and son blooms. Like the relationship between Harvey and Sally, the scenes between Harvey and his dad are sincere, evoking great compassion from the reader. Likewise, Sally’s parents, Tatum and Steve-O, are complex individuals. On the surface, they are appear to be self-centered, poor white trash, but their lives have been ones of quiet desperation. For years they have bravely covered with a veneer the realities of their tragic as well as painful backgrounds and they have assumed the lives they have for deliberate reasons. When presented with both the opportunity and need to act they do not hesitate to reveal their true selves and long hidden-away abilities.
Every great thriller needs a phenomenal villain and Youers provides a stunning one: Dominic Lang. Lang, with his “Emperor Ming eyes,” rivals the incredibly evil Josef Mengele and is obsessed with power, utilizing it to his advantage while being perfectly willing to destroy anything or anyone who opposes him. There is no one in his life to help to control his mania. Lang, who has spent a lifetime endearing him to the government and the world of politics, has also studied the connection “between psychic ability and mental illness.” He has done so not out of scientific curiosity, but to eliminate any competition. Lang possesses many of the same “unique and powerful” abilities as does Sally—only more so and between them lies a dreadful and indissoluble nexus. After their first encounter, Harvey refers to Lang as the “spider” for good reason.
Lang’s “hunt dogs” come as close as any as being one-dimensional, but that is as it should be. They are sadistic, skilled brutes following commands without question, determined to fulfill their ruthless missions at any cost and in most cases, relishing their successes and fulfilling them to an extreme. No other kind of thugs would be of acceptable service to Dominic Lang.
Once Harvey sets about finding Sally Starling and begins sluggishly recovering his memories, The Forgotten Girl is a “high speed chase,” filled with games of cat and mouse with the hunter and the hunted often exchanging roles back and forth. Youers adds a subplot about a serial killer which is both relevant to the main story and ups the horrors for a number of the characters while beguiling the reader. Amidst all of the breathless moments, however, there are still amazing, poignant instances such as when two of the characters take the time to gaze at and admire the stars at night, knowing they might never see them again. Descriptions of some of the novel’s settings are as vivid as those to be found in Jack Kerouac’s iconic writing.
As readers watch the remaining pages of The Forgotten Girl diminish as the violence and chaos increases, they are bound to be filled with contradictory emotions: wanting to know how events will play themselves out, but fearful of what the author might fashion at the end. Thus, The Forgotten Girl contains all of the best elements of a captivating thriller—one that signals Rio Youers has moved into the upper echelon of writers who cannot and should not be ignored.
- Paperback: 464 pages
- Publisher: Titan Publishing Group (1 August 2019)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1785659847
- ISBN-13: 978-1785659843
- Product Dimensions: 13 x 3.8 x 19.8 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 340 g
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