Two Girls Down by Louisa Luna on the surface is a story about two young girls kidnapped from a strip mall parking lot. Any mother has nightmares just at the thought of this happening to their child. Luna does a good job of painting the desperation of the young single mom.
The kidnapping takes place in rural Pennsylvania with a police department quickly out of their league. Fortunately for Jamie Brandt, her employer aunt hires a hot-shot private investigator from California, Alice Vega. Vega is a bit of an enigma. The author tries at various times in the story to unravel the puzzle, but I never fully understood Vega’s back story. Perhaps a sequel is in the works.
After the local LEOS tell Vega “Thanks but no thanks” she approaches an ex-cop turned private eye to join her in the search for the two missing grade school girls. Max Caplan initially says no. But as incentive Vega brings in a child support shirking dad Caplan has been searching for. Additionally, his own daughter puts in her two cents, and Caplan agrees.
The plot and pace of the story is good. Luna begins Two Girls Down painting a picture of a distraught mother filled with guilt, desperation and a drug/alcohol cocktail to dull the pain. So from the start, the author blends fiction and reality. In today’s world of accessible pharmaceuticals the mother’s actions ring true.
The characters are interesting. Caplan and his daughter Nell were the most likable even though at the start of the book he was heavily drinking as a way to deal with his divorce. Any parent could appreciate having a daughter as mature and confident as Nell. Luna uses her as a contrast to the older of the two kidnapped girls.
The wackos involved with the kidnapping could be divided into two categories. The druggies and the sickos. Both allow Luna to comment on today’s society. The use of drugs and alcohol is a common theme throughout. The chief of police belongs to AA, Caplan drinks more beer than he should, and these are the good guys. The thugs are heavy into street drugs and Vega and Caplan must wade through the sludge in their search for the missing girls.
Two Girls Down is fiction but reflects life to a certain extent. Almost everyone under thirty in the book, including the distraught mom are misusing some kind of drugs. In some cases, excuses are made for the users, such as a dying mother and disappearance of a disabled brother. Others are clearly enabled by a parent. Luna’s writing is a commentary on the seedy side of our culture. Lest the reader think that only one segment of society is messed up, she gives us the sickos.
The masterminds behind the kidnapping are not trolling the streets for drugs. Beyond that I won’t say much. But I do like how Luna’s final twist pulls everything together. The motivation for what turns out to be multiple kidnappings should sicken you. There are many problems in our society and much can be tied to street drugs. However, true sickness of the mind does not require outside help.
I like Two Girls Down and I had not read any of Luna’s work before although I believe at least one of her Young Adult novels resides in one of the our bookcases. The interaction between the characters is believable for the most part. I liked the grittiness of private investigator Alice Vega. She is a tough lady tamping down on some emotional baggage of her own. However, I am uncertain of the chemistry between Vega and Caplan. They worked well as a team but I do not see them developing a further relationship. But, you never know.