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Lost Souls    by Michael Collins order for
Lost Souls
by Michael Collins
Order:  USA  Can
Penguin, 2005 (2004)
Hardcover, Paperback
* *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

On a nearly deserted street in a small Indiana town, late in the evening on Halloween, a three-year old girl is found dead, apparently struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver. A veteran police officer - the narrator whom we know only by his first name Lawrence - is assigned to the case. And early evidence points to the person who is probably responsible for the little girl's death: Kyle Johnson, the star quarterback of the high school football team.

Lawrence, however, soon runs into obstacles when he interviews Kyle. Because of family pressure, religious guilt, and a secret shared by Kyle and his girlfriend, Kyle becomes a problematic suspect, and Lawrence realizes that he may have difficulties with his investigation. Moreover, at the urging of the mayor and the chief of police, Lawrence is directed to move not so quickly but - more importantly - he is directed to move deliberately and discreetly. After all, as Lawrence is reminded, the high school football team is on its way to the state championship game, and Kyle is indispensable to the team's (and the community's) success and prestige. Lawrence must carefully handle the investigation, notwithstanding the tragic circumstances of the little girl's death about which everyone claims to feel tremendous sorrow. Lawrence is, in fact, persuaded that the considerably important hopes and dreams of the community may be jeopardized by a too quickly resolved case against Kyle Johnson.

As an increasingly uncomfortable Lawrence haltingly proceeds with his investigation, he finds himself in jeopardy - ethically, emotionally, and physically - when a series of violent incidents threaten to destroy both the community and Lawrence. Too many people - lost souls - whose lives have been complicated by difficult relationships, guilty secrets, denials of truth, and prideful anxieties must make difficult choices; the dangerous stakes to personal integrity and safety are becoming enormous, and Lawrence increasingly worries that no one will be able to save a community so sadly tainted by so many lies and conspiracies, a community poised on the brink of self-destruction.

This is a beautiful but harrowing tale of desperation and redemption told by a skillful storyteller. Michael Collins is a quite talented writer, and Lost Souls (previously available in hardcover from Viking in 2004) is a fast-paced psychological thriller and deeply disturbing mystery. Though readers may not be comfortable with Collins's mirror-like study of American cultural values in decline, they will not soon forget the passion and power of this novel's characterizations and themes.

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