July 27, 2012

Book Review: LOST GIRLS by Caitlin Rother

BOOK DESCRIPTION:  Chelsea King was a popular high school senior, an outstanding achiever fiercely determined to make a difference. Fourteen-year-old Amber Dubois loved books and poured her heart into the animals she cared for and the poetry she wrote. Loved by their families and treasured by their friends, both girls disappeared in northern San Diego County, just eight miles and one year apart. The region’s desperate search for these lost innocents led authorities to a brutal predator hiding in plain sight: John Albert Gardner, a convicted sex offender who could have been returned to prison several times over. Now New York Times bestselling author Caitlin Rother delivers an incisive, heartbreaking true-life thriller about a case that galvanized the community, first by grief and goodwill, then by anger and injustice, as it came to grips with a flawed system that failed … and adopted a law that will forever change how we keep our children safe.

This chilling book aims to help readers understand how to protect themselves and their children and how to prevent similar tragedies from occurring in the future by revealing new and exclusive details about the factors that turned Gardner, once a troubled but caring boy, into an angry adult sex offender who was unable to control his violent urges

My Review

Being that these crimes happened only a few years back and in my current backyard, and knowing that Caitlin Rother writes well researched and written books, I anticipated reading Lost Girls.  The book left a sad, bitter and frustrated taste in my mouth.

Author Caitlin Rother supplied stellar investigative writing.  She wrote with so much description that she brought victims Amber and Chelsea to life on the pages.  They came across much more vividly than their killer, which is a wonderful change to many true crime books where the killer is the so-called star of the show.  Perhaps it helps that Gardner’s victim count was thankfully low or perhaps it speaks of Ms. Rother’s desire to not glorify the crimes.  I have found Ms. Rother’s other true crime works to be equally well balanced and I applaud her efforts. 

Even with her desire not to delve into unnecessary detail about the atrocities Amber and Chelsea suffered, the crimes were obviously horrendous.  Horrendous in what was emotionally and physically done to the young girls but also in how the crimes themselves tore away the fabric of safety that permeated the bedroom communities where the girls lived and from where they were abducted.  Once that layer of security has been ripped away it’s hard to replace and Gardner is guilty of murdering the innocence present in the northern San Diego area. 

Ms. Rother did a fantastic job on Gardner’s background and formative years.  I was alternately stunned, saddened and angered by the many abuses and red flags that were present in his childhood and adolescence that were either ignored or glossed over by family members and health professionals.  I hate to use the term “perfect storm” but Gardner’s upbringing and environment seemed to me to be a perfect storm for creating a monster.  Gardner’s mother gave me the most aggravation.  I can understand defending your child but this mother seemed to be in denial and appears to continue to be in denial.  I will stop short of calling her an enabler; after all, she didn’t cause her son to be a killer and no parent deserves the grief of knowing your child has taken the lives of others but I have no tolerance for excuse making and she thoroughly put me off through the course of the book.

I was also shocked at how the healthcare system, particularly the mental healthcare system, appeared to fail Gardner.  Time and again he was proven to have problems.  Time and again it was clear he needed intervention, he needed medication, he needed professional help.  Even when he himself asked for it, it was denied.  Why?  I can’t help but wonder if the proper help was given, would Amber Dubois and Chelsea King be alive today? 

Most enlightening and hair raising is the section at the end of the book, where Ms. Rother had an interview with Gardner.  This may be the truest Gardner seen, other than that monster seen by Amber and Chelsea, his victims who survived and that brief flash of rage in the courtroom. 
I felt for the families of the girls, neither of whom wanted this book published and understandably so but I think it’s an insightful look into a cruel and twisted mind and a real lesson for us as a whole.  I felt extended grief for Amber Dubois’ family, who didn’t learn about her fate for over a year and for whose search for their loved one didn’t garner as much media attention as the search for Chelsea King would a year later. 

I am filled with sadness for both of these young girls who had so much to offer.  Both of them could have, and likely would have, made a difference in this world and Gardner deprived society of them.  Their lives were just beginning and he decided to snuff them out, for his own demented and selfish reasons.  Knowing he is in prison, where he will remain for the rest of his life, is a small comfort. 

For fans of true crime, I would recommend Lost Girls.  It’s not an easy read and while the pages will go quickly, it can easily weigh you down.  With the writing so well done and facts not previously publicly known (due to the lack of a trial) being shared, Lost Girls is a must-read and should be required reading for any criminal justice or psychology student. 

Very well done, Ms. Rother.  Your work is thought provoking and yet very respectful.

Lost Girls is available for purchase at major booksellers, including Amazon.  I am an Amazon affiliate.  If you make a purchase through my link, I will receive a small commission. 

Review copy of this book provided by the publisher/author in exchange for a fair and honest review. In no way did the provision of this book affect the outcome of my review.

With thanks to Pump Up Your Book for including me on this tour!

About Author Caitlin Rother

New York Times bestselling author Caitlin Rother has written or co-authored eight books, including Poisoned Love (Kensington, December 2011), Dead Reckoning (Kensington, February 2011), Twisted Triangle (Wiley, 2009), Body Parts (Kensington, 2008), Deadly Devotion (Simon&Schuster/Pocket, July 2011), NYT bestseller My Life, Deleted (HarperOne, October 2011), and Naked Addiction (Dorchester, 2007). Her latest true crime project, Lost Girls (Kensington, July 2012), chronicles the rape and murder of two innocents, teenagers Chelsea King and Amber Dubois, by sexual predator John Gardner. Rother, a Pulitzer-nominated investigative journalist with more than 310,000 copies of her books in print, has also been published in Cosmopolitan, the Los Angeles Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, and The Daily Beast. She has done dozens of TV and radio appearances as a crime expert on Nancy Grace, the Jay Thomas Show, E!, the Oxygen Network; Greta Van Susteren’s “On the Record,” Investigation Discovery, “America at Night,” American Radio Network, XM and numerous NPR/PBS affiliates. Rother also works as a book doctor/editorial consultant and teaches journalism and creative writing at University of California, San Diego Extension. She has done dozens of TV and radio appearances as a crime expert on shows including Nancy Grace.

To learn more about Caitlin, go to her website: http://caitlinrother.com/
Visit Caitlin Rother on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/CaitlinRother
Like Caitlin Rother on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Caitlin-Rother/190361197708434


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