Written by: Matthew J. Barbour
For fans of Jack Ketchum there is, but one question: Off Season or The Girl Next Door? Those who say the former tend to enjoy splatterpunk, whereas the latter like more psychological terror. Of course, some are going to cheat and say “both,” but you can’t have your cake and eat it too. At least, that is what the English proverb tells us.
The Lost fits within the framework of The Girl Next Door. It is a period piece set in 1969. Four years ago, a teenager by the name of Ray Pye commits a gruesome act, which ultimately leads to the death of two young women. While the authorities suspect his involvement, they never have the evidence to charge Ray. His friends help him conceal the evidence and the teenager walks away without penalty, but there are always repercussions.
The absence of penalty, the perceived invincibility, the compliant nature of his friends to do whatever he wants, etc… all of these things are problematic. Ray Pye is a walking time bomb. He just needs something, or someone, to flip his switch. That is when he meets Katherine Wallace.
The Lost starts with a bang, taking the time to detail Ray’s killing of the two young women in 1965. However, this is followed by an extremely long respite in the narrative. While always building momentum, there is never any doubt that Ray will eventually snap. Unfortunately for the reader, it will take over 250 pages to get there. The ending is worth the time, but the lull is more at home in a crime drama than a horror novel.
Similarities with pacing are not the only things The Lost shares with procedural crime drama. Many of the passages follow the police officers who investigated the murders of the two young women. They have always believed in the Ray’s involvement and are obsessed on finding evidence of his guilt. They still wish to put him behind bars before he can hurt anyone else. It will come as no surprise that they fail in this objective.
The conclusion is brilliant. The feelings of love and rejection are powerful emotions. Ketchum positions the characters perfectly. He combines them in a way to make the most explosive cocktail imaginable. One does not read the last 100 pages of the book, but rather devour it. The ending to The Lost is that good.
The Lost is not Jack Ketchum’s finest book by any stretch of the imagination. The setup required to pull off the finale is tedious. The characters, while interesting, are not really likeable. Lastly, for a book about 400 pages in length, there are certain nuances of the story that remain unexplained.
It is possible my own fondness for Off Season and the splatterpunk-style Ketchum tales colors my interpretation. Would I have preferred Ray run around in the wild eating teenage girls? Probably. Regardless, The Lost is a good book by a great author.