Two Girls Down
Sometimes, a book blurb grabs my attention and won’t let go until I give in and read the book. This is exactly what happened with Louisa Luna’s Two Girls Down, although unfortunately, the story itself wasn’t able to live up to its synopsis, and I came away feeling rather let down.
Single mother Jamie Brandt has run out of patience. Her daughters, ten-year-old Kylie and eight-year-old Bailey, are constantly wanting something from her, and, on the rare occasions they actually leave her in peace, they end up arguing with one another. It’s enough to drive even the world’s best mother absolutely crazy, and Jamie’s far from an exemplary parent. So, when the girls are invited to a friend’s birthday party, Jamie jumps at the chance to grab an afternoon to herself. On the way to the party, she stops at the local mall to pick up a gift for the birthday girl. Of course, Kylie and Bailey beg to come in and help her choose the gift, but Jamie knows it’ll be faster if she runs in on her own, so she leaves them in the car with the keys in the ignition. When she returns, the car is there, but the girls are nowhere to be seen.
The police force in the small Pennsylvania town Jamie calls home has been stretched thin by some rather drastic budget cuts as well as a rising drug epidemic, so when Jamie reports her daughters missing, not much is done. Jamie is understandably desperate to find out what happened, so she engages the services of unorthodox bounty hunter Alice Vega who has built up quite a reputation as a locater of missing children. Things don’t go smoothly for Alice though, as the local police aren’t pleased by what they see as her interference in a local matter and they do everything they can to shut her out. Fortunately, Alice is a woman who knows how to get what she wants, and she knows just whose help she can enlist in locating the Brandt girls.
Max (Cap) Caplan never thought he’d see the day when he’d be glad of a job spying on cheating spouses, but the former cop will do anything to keep a roof over his teenaged daughter’s head. Sure, working as a private investigator is far from his dream job, but it’s better than nothing. His former life as a police officer has taught him quite a bit about the grittier aspects of small town life, so, when he’s approached by Alice Vega, a stranger from California who seems to know way too much about the bad decision that ousted Cap from the police force, he reluctantly agrees to help her look into the disappearance of Bailey and Kylie Brandt.
As Cap and Alice race against the clock to find the girls before it’s too late, they accumulate enemies right and left. Everyone seems to have something to hide, and it soon becomes impossible for Alice and Cap to figure out which secrets might be linked to the missing girls. Will Bailey and Kylie be reunited with their mother, or are they lost forever?
Two Girls Down is not a terrible book by any stretch. It’s fast-paced and doesn’t rely on overly shocking twists to keep the reader engaged. Unfortunately though, it’s one of those stories that doesn’t really distinguish itself from the hundreds of other crime novels out there. I’ve read a ton of books about missing children, and, while the premise of this one seemed unique, it ended up being pretty similar to the rest.
I struggled to like the main characters. Alice is smart in a way that feels unbelievable. No matter what happens, she is one step ahead of the villain and she always manages to pull just the right solution to any problem out of her hat. Some authors can pull this off, but Ms. Luna isn’t one of them.
As for Cap, he’s your stereotypical disgraced police officer who seems to carry the weight of the whole world on his shoulders. He blames himself for every single thing that goes wrong, and it got old really fast. His love for his daughter is the only thing that feels authentic about his character, and that just wasn’t enough for me. Plus, his backstory is really confusing. The author is super stingy with details about the incident that ended his career as a police officer, and the details she does give don’t really ring true. Instead of fleshing out his character, they served only to raise more questions.
I was also pretty disappointed in the big reveal which, while not necessarily obvious, felt overly complicated. It’s as though the author tried too hard to come up with a reason for the girls’ disappearances, and it comes off as forced. I wasn’t able to guess the identity of the villain, a fact I appreciated, but other than that, the ending falls flat.
I do give Ms. Luna props for her sensitive depiction of rural America. Small towns are usually portrayed as places where everyone treats each other like family and nothing bad ever happens. Fortunately, Ms. Luna doesn’t go that route here, and she does a great job exploring what happens when drugs take hold of a struggling community. Her descriptions of the town and its residents were the main thing that kept me interested in the story. The characters, aside from Alice and Cap, are well-drawn, each with authentic-seeming struggles and triumphs. But these things aren’t enough to salvage the book as a whole, and so, I can’t, in good conscience, recommend Two Girls Down.