Enigmatic main character of 'The Lost Ones' makes novel work

This cover image released by William Morrow shows "The Lost Ones," by Sheena Kamal. (William Morrow via AP)

Book Review: "The Lost Ones" by Sheena Kamal has an unusual _ and believable _ twist.

"The Lost Ones: a Novel" (William Morrow), by Sheena Kamal

Vancouver research assistant/receptionist Nora Watts technically isn't a detective — though she works for a private investigating firm — but her skills at finding people and detecting liars is almost peerless. She also barely holds her life together. She lives, unknown to her bosses, in the firm's basement with Whisper, her rescue dog and her one "lifeline" to humanity. Whisper brought to Nora's life "a kind of fullness and peace" that was missing.

Nora believes her meeting with Lynn and Everett Walsh is a simple case of trying to locate their daughter Bonnie. But this is no ordinary case of a missing child. The 15-year-old recently learned that Nora is her biological mother and the Walshes believe Bonnie is trying to find her. The emotionally distant Nora wants nothing to do with the case, or finding Bonnie. The girl was the result of a brutal rape that put Nora in a coma for six months. Still, almost against her will, Nora thinks about the child she has tried to put out of her mind for years. She and Whisper roam the streets of Vancouver at night searching for Bonnie. It soon becomes clear that someone else is also looking for her.

The plot of "The Lost Ones" by Sheena Kamal occasionally veers into the unrealistic and meanders a bit before getting back on track. This almost loosens the impact of the unusual — and believable — twist. But Kamal never loses her focus on social issues that she expertly weaves into the novel, such as the treatment of Canada's indigenous people.

What makes "The Lost Ones" work is the enigmatic Nora, who is realistically explored. Kamal employs several tropes familiar to the private detective novel — Nora is a loner, a recovering alcoholic, moody — but avoids cliches in using these characteristics. As a child, Nora had been bullied for her biracial background. She has trouble trusting anyone, or believing in happiness, having grown up in foster homes. She considers herself a survivor, not a victim, of a horrendous crime, though her solace has often come from alcohol. Nora's loneliness is heart-wrenching, as is her transient nature. But Whisper gives Nora a reason to get up in the morning and choose to be a part of society.

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