Today’s review is a little different. I’m reviewing 13 Stolen Girls, by Gil Reavill – a mystery/thriller rather than a romance. Netgalley provided me with a copy of the book, and Enchanted Book Promotions was kind enough to allow me to do the review as part of the blog tour.
Perfect for fans of Michael Connelly’s Bosch series, Gil Reavill’s gripping new Layla Remington thriller plunges readers beneath the glittering facade of Hollywood and into a terrifying underworld where beautiful women can
just . . . disappear.
Malibu is crumbling. A monster earthquake has just ripped apart some of the priciest real estate on the planet. In a bizarre twist, it has also exposed a grisly tableau buried for years beneath one particularly unstable hilltop: a steel barrel containing the mummified remains of Tarin Mistry, the beautiful starlet who went missing a decade ago. When Detective Investigator Layla Remington looks into that wretched metal coffin, she realizes she’s just landed the case of a lifetime.
But before Layla even strips off her latex gloves, a pair of hotshot LAPD detectives arrive on the scene and pull her off the investigation. Undeterred, Layla pursues her own line of inquiry, risking her badge and her life to track down Tarin’s murderer: from the rarified air of exclusive canyon communities to seedy sex clubs downtown, all the way to the secluded lair of one of Hollywood’s most powerful men. But while Tarin’s a cold case, her killer is poised to strike again–and, in Layla, this depraved sociopath has just found fresh prey.
It took Remington half the morning to travel five miles from central Malibu down the coast to the community’s far eastern border. She passed through a battle zone, one more front in the ongoing war of Nature versus Los Angeles. The PCH was closed, with parts of the roadway heaved two feet from true. Units of the Guard were moving in.
Malibu being the haven of the stars that it was, rumors of celebrity deaths flew. The actress Halle Berry was supposed to have died when her beachfront mansion collapsed. The buzz had it that Bob Dylan had been swept out to sea. Both accounts later proved false. But Remington heard “tsunami” from the lips of stunned, vacant-eyed citizens, the term hanging in the air like a drone of insects. The feared giant wave never came.
“Up there, in that grove of cottonwoods, where the slide pushed against the check dam,” Deputy Tejeda told Remington when the detective finally made it to the scene.
Only it wasn’t a scene. It was chaos. Paz Tejeda was part of an H.R.D. team from the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, searching the area around a parking garage that had collapsed downhill into an apartment building. A pair of structural engineers were already on-site.
The deputy pointed up the slope. Remington focused her field glasses. She could see nothing but a clutter of mid-sized boulders and an immense skid of dirt where a landslide had taken out a section of the hillside.
Tejeda had her cadaver dog with her. The beagle wore a black vinyl vest with the letters “H.R.D.” and the words “L.A. County Sheriff’s Department” emblazoned on it. H.R.D., meaning human remains detection.
“We’ve got multiple fatalities in the apartments.” Tejeda indicated the dog. “Cindy and I were working our way around back, and all at once she takes off upslope. I called her, but she wouldn’t break her run. Then she alerted.”
Why bring in the murder squad? Remington wondered. She was fairly new to the Homicide Bureau. When the earthquake hit, an “all available” request went out, summoning the whole sheriff’s department for emergency duty. But dispatch informed her that Deputy Tejeda had specifically requested that personnel be detailed from the homicide unit.
“It’s the way Cindy alerted,” Tejeda replied to Remington’s unspoken question. “She’s trained to respond in different ways for different situations. She didn’t sit, she lay down.”
“What does that mean?”
“She’s indicating that she detected decay or decomposition. The bodies from the quake wouldn’t have time to rot yet. She would sit for those. But this one she lay right down for.”
Tejeda took an ash-stained cloth from her back pocket. She knelt and put the handkerchief to Cindy’s nose.
“Blow,” the deputy ordered. Remington watched, disbelieving, as the pooch gave a dainty little sneeze into the cloth.
“Her nose gets stuffed up with all the dust and ash,” Tejeda explained.
“Right.” Remington shook her head in wonderment.
She stared down toward the highway. Helicopters throbbed like migraines overhead, including a big Huey up from Miramar. The emergency sirens were constant. Malibu had exploded. The authorities were estimating a half billion dollars’ worth of destruction.
In the midst of all the madness, was she going to take her cue from a trained canine? She glanced down at Cindy. The dog looked up at her handler, eager, stepping in place.
“Okay,” Remington said.
Tejeda unsnapped the beagle’s leash. Cindy bounded away, straight-arrowing up the slope.
A volunteer emergency worker tried to head off Remington from following the dog. “Ma’am, we can’t let you go up there.”
A bald guy wearing an EMT windbreaker. He approached and attempted to physically block her. “The ground is too unstable for you to—”
Remington flipped open her badge wallet to display her gold shield.
“It’s not ‘ma’am,’ sir,” she said. “It’s ‘Detective.’ ” She didn’t appreciate men who used their weight as an argument.
He called after her as she stepped around him. “Ma’am? Ma’am?”
The steel barrel, when Remington approached it after a steep, precarious climb, lay ruptured amid a jumble of landslide debris. The detective didn’t need a cadaver dog to identify the stench of death.
Even in the midst of catastrophe, the sun shone off the ocean as if Malibu would remain forever in a state of grace. Somehow, though, the rays didn’t penetrate the darkness of the eighty-five-gallon drum’s interior. Remington took a Maglite from the small duty belt she wore. She snapped it on and directed the light past the jagged edges of the ripped-open barrel, its black steel freckled with rust.
The body lay curled up within the tight space. If left exposed in a dry environment, a human corpse will slowly retract into a prayerful posture, head bowed, hands pulled in under the chin, knees bent. Remington tried to tell herself that there was nothing particularly meaningful about it, despite the religious symbolism. It was simply a case of muscles tightening because of tissue dehydration. But the effect made her shiver.
The beam of her flashlight played across the mummified remains. In the sudden illumination, the platinum swirl of hair lit up like a Clairol ad. Jean Harlow hair, so pale and exquisite that it seemed to give off glints of silver.
Even before Remington saw the necklace, a name occurred to her because of that distinctive, white-blond hair. A certain missing girl was known for it.
The aspiring actress’s disappearance, more than five years ago, had triggered a massive search effort, equally frantic press coverage and a derailed homicide prosecution dismissed by the judge for lack of a corpse. Born Beth (actually, Bethlehem) Gunion, she had starred in a sleeper indie film that had broken huge. Breathless “Mystery of Tarin Mistry” documentaries still cropped up occasionally on cable. It was one of those deaths that wouldn’t die.
A necklace rested against the brown, leathery skin of the corpse’s throat. The silver chain displayed a single ornament, a cheapo enameled charm.
The cursive letter “T,” embedded with an opal birthstone.
Every gold badge in California knew that charm. The missing-persons report on Tarin Mistry described the piece in detail. People had been searching for it for years.
Layla Remington had just caught the case of a lifetime.
13 Stolen Girls offered an intriguing premise to me: the sudden and unexpected unearthing of the body of a starlet missing for a decade, and figuring out the connection between her body and the other young women going missing in and around Hollywood.
This was my first experience with Det. Layla Remington (I have 13 Hollywood Apes, but haven’t had a chance to read it yet), and I found a couple of things interesting about her. One is that she’s the only female homicide detective (or murder police, as they say in the book), and the other is that she apparently works alone. It comes across very much as if she has something to prove (something that I believe is even said or thought at one point in the book), and I find that a little surprising, because she seems like a very strong detective – I don’t know if that’s because she’s trying so hard to prove herself or if it’s just the way she is.
There were a lot of tangles, a lot of twists and turns in this story. It delves deep into the dark and dirty side of Hollywood, as described in the description, and it also dives into a world where a book series can quickly blur the lines between fantasy and reality – creating a swirling mix of a disturbing reality that’s altered by both movies and books.
There were some points in the book that I felt were a bit slow, and I would maybe even go so far as to say boring, but the book is worth pushing through those areas. There are plenty of active parts, parts with intrigue, activity, and theories that more than make up for the slow parts. And the ending? The ending was definitely not worth missing! I did not see it coming, and it was a great way to end the book.
Overall, as an introduction to Gil Reavill and his fiction, I’d say this was a great start. I’ll definitely be getting to 13 Hollywood Apes soon!
Find 13 Stolen Girls on Goodreads.
Gil Reavill is a journalist, screenwriter, and playwright. Widely featured in magazines, Reavill is the author of a crime novel, Thirteen Hollywood Apes, nominated for a Thriller Award from International Thriller Writers. He has written two works of crime non-fiction: Mafia Summit: J. Edgar Hoover, the Kennedy Brothers, and the Meeting That Unmasked the Mob, and Aftermath, Inc.: Cleaning Up After CSI Goes Home. He also co-wrote the screenplay for the 2006 film Dirty, starring Cuba Gooding, Jr. He lives in New York with his wife, the author Jean Zimmerman, and their daughter.
Thanks to Gil Reavill, Netgalley, Penguin Random House, and Enchanted Book Promotions for allowing me to read and review 13 Stolen Girls!