Desert Isle Keeper
The Lullaby Girl
I have been eagerly awaiting the next release in Loreth Anne White’s new Angie Pallorino series ever since I finished the first book, The Drowned Girls. Not only did that book contain an extremely compelling and densely plotted mystery surrounding a serial killer nicknamed ‘The Baptist’ and an international sex-trafficking ring, but it also introduced us to the eponymous heroine, a dedicated, hard-working cop in the Metro Victoria PD sex-crimes unit whose ball-busting, lone-wolf ways have never made her popular with her male colleagues and upon whom the six years she has spent delving into the minds and activities of some seriously sick individuals has started to take its toll. She’s been in something of a downward spiral for the last couple of years and in the grip of what seems to be an ever strengthening self-destructive streak; the death of her partner and of the child they were trying to save some months earlier has thrown her even more off balance, and on top of all that, a complicated family situation had spawned doubts about her origins and caused Angie to start to question everything she has ever known about herself.
The Drowned Girls ended with a mystery solved and a group of bad guys taken down, but with Angie uncertain about her future, both personally and professionally. The story of her search for the truth about her past really gains momentum in The Lullaby Girl, but if you haven’t read the previous book, a lot of what’s happening here is unlikely to make sense; these books need to be read in order, and because I’ll be referring to some plot points from the first book, there are spoilers for it in this review.
Angie is on suspension from duty following her take-down of The Baptist. He had kidnapped and intended to murder the teenaged daughter of Angie’s lover, Detective James Maddocks, and although Angie had saved both their lives by killing Spencer Addams – the man behind the nickname – she has been accused of using excessive force in order to do so, having shot the man eight times over. At the time, Angie had been gripped by a troubling vision of a little girl in a pink dress, a vision that had been haunting her for some time and which she now strongly suspects is related to long-suppressed memories.
While she waits to find out if she still has a career or not, Maddocks is heading up the investigation into the so-called “barcode girls”, six young women who were rescued from a luxury yacht that operated as a floating brothel. The women are all teenagers, of a similar age to Maddocks’ daughter, Ginny; they’re terrified, traumatised and are being cared for in hospital while Maddocks and his team – which includes Angie’s rather odd and enigmatic former partner, Kjel Holgersen – start to piece together the evidence and try to work out exactly where they came from and the route taken by the traffickers.
Angie is, understandably, frustrated and angry at being pulled from the case she had a big hand in blowing wide open and she also can’t help being jealous of the fact that Maddocks is heading up the investigation. She’s also scared at the fact that she just might be falling in love with him; she’s been emotionally closed off for so long that the thought of allowing herself to feel something for him terrifies her. And although she recognises all these things – fear, jealousy, frustration – for what they are, she is in danger of allowing them to get the upper hand and of pushing Maddocks away for good.
While she waits for a decision about her career, Angie starts in earnest on the search for information about her true identity. She believes herself to be the ‘Angel’s Cradle child’ who was left at a local hospital in 1986, aged around four. (An Angel’s Cradle is a way for desperate mothers to leave their unwanted children somewhere safe without fear of being tracked down and identified.) While it was more usual for newborns to be put in such places, this one saved Angie’s life; she was bundled in there by a woman she believes was her mother amid a gun battle in the street which killed a cop and injured a bystander. She meets with one of the nurses who was on duty that night – Christmas Eve 1986 – and then makes contact with the widow of the detective who worked the case of the shootings, who is, miraculously, able to supply Angie with some valuable information and evidence her husband had ‘appropriated’ from his office before, according to protocol back then, it was destroyed.
Unable to believe her luck, Angie engages the services of a high-end, top-quality forensics lab to see if they are able to obtain any DNA evidence using the more sophisticated methods now available, but unfortunately, her relief at having some potential leads is destined not to last long. Having been told she will be on probation for twelve months in a desk job, and that there is no guarantee she will be reinstated to her old position at the end of it, Angie is furious and seriously thinks of quitting. But she realises that if she can stick it out, she will retain access to police databases, labs and contacts that she might be able to make use of in order to help her to find out who she really is and where she came from. But when, on her first day, Angie receives a visit from two officers from the RCMP demanding she turn over everything to them, she faces having the rug pulled out from under her yet again. The officers are investigating the likely murder of a child following the discovery of a dismembered foot encased in a purple trainer which was washed up at the beach near the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal. Forensic testing reveals the DNA to be identical to Angie’s – which stuns her. The only possible explanation is that she must have had a twin sister – could she be the little girl in pink of Angie’s memories and visions? Could hers have been the voice urging Angie to “Comeum playum dum grove”?
All this happens within the first few chapters, and Ms. White has set the stage for an enthralling story in which the two different threads – Angie’s search for clues as to her identity and Maddocks’ investigation into the Barcode Girls – are gradually and inexorably woven together to produce a truly gripping and un-putdownable read. Angie isn’t always the easiest character to like, but her need for answers is understandable and literally jumps off the page, so strongly articulated as it is by the author. Angie relentlessly goes her own way, even when warned that she could well be putting her life in danger; it’s not her finest moment, perhaps, but she has reached the stage where she feels so unmoored, so needful of regaining a sense of identity that she is prepared to look death in the face if she must in order to find her true self.
Angie’s romantic relationship with Maddocks takes a bit of a back seat here; their time together is fairly brief, and it’s clear that they’re both struggling to work out exactly what is going on between them. The complications added by their work situation – with Maddocks being on the inside and Angie pushed out – only make things more difficult, forcing Angie to admit that walking away would be the easier option. But is that what she really wants?
The Lullaby Girl is a terrific blend of complex, cleverly-plotted mystery and suspense with a nice dash of romance thrown in for good measure, and I’m sure that if you enjoyed the first book, then you’ll love this one. I can’t wait to see what Loreth Anne White has in store for Angie next.