Thrillers will never go out of style in literature. Missing children will never go out of style as a plot in books. And the combination of a gruff, slightly older guy who is weary of the world pairing off with a tough, younger woman who wants to fight the world will never go out of style as compelling main characters.
Louisa Luna checked all three of those boxes with TWO GIRLS DOWN.
Luna starts the story with a mother stating that she is not a bad mother. Whether she’s telling the world, telling herself, or telling some combination of both, it is what she says. And then she cops to smoking pot and having too many boyfriends. All this sets the stage for a story of abducted children and a small town’s dirty little secrets.
The world-weary guy is Cap… I honestly forget his first name (Mike, maybe?) because he is only ever called Cap or Caplan in the book… who is an ex-cop turned PI who took the fall for a friend who had more to lose when something went wrong.
The fight-the-world woman is Vega… I remember her name is Alice because she sometimes think of herself that way, as everyone else calls her Vega… who has achieved celebrity-like status as the finder of missing children.
(I sense a series of books coming focused on the combined efforts of Cap and Vega, and a possibly romance between them… I am 100% on board with this. Just saying.)
The town where Bailey and Kylie Brandt go missing is a place called Denville in eastern Pennsylvania. Opioid addictions run rampant and the town is struggling to keep afloat, as many small towns are. This sets the stage for many dodgy suspects and a general air of suspicion against everyone from dealers to cops. There’s even a missing, handicapped adult who seems to be either a suspect or maybe taken by the same people, and his mother is dying of cancer.
(This is in no small part thanks to the pollution spewed by the coal mines in the area. I really didn’t expect there to be so many social statements in this sort of a novel but I like it. There really isn’t any better way to open someone’s eyes than to put it in a story.)
A small flaw in the story are the abundance of small-town cliches and cop-related tropes. It’s almost… too perfectly screwed up, if that makes sense. The gritty and harsh setting fits the story Luna is telling but can that many bad things really happen in that tiny section of a world? Maybe. I suppose.
Cap and Vega don’t seem like they’d work well together at all. He’s quiet and deliberative while she’s loud and reactionary (she may endear herself to him in a scene involving hot tea and a deadbeat husband’s genitals). But they get they job the job done despite the secrets she keeps and the life he has with his teenage daughter. Vega does spend a lot of time flashing back to her life in California and the cases she’s worked, and that comes off kind of disjointed and almost randomly attached to her, but it’s kind of part of her quirky nature.
In a sense, TWO GIRLS DOWN reads like a weekly crime drama. Not a case-of-the-week show like Law & Order but something that lasts a season. The characters are drawn into a vivid scene and everyone has their carefully crafted role to play. The way things turn out is entirely satisfying and it made sense and I am so glad I got the chance to read this book.
Again, to Louisa Luna, I would totally read more stories with Cap and Vega!