Russel D. McLean’s The Lost Sister follows private eye J. McNee (first seen in McLean’s fantastic previous novel The Good Son) as he searches for Mary Furst, a beautiful teenage girl whose godfather is Dundee’s, well, “godfather” of sorts, David Burns. At first he figures Burns’ criminal affairs are to blame for Mary’s disappearance, but when fellow PI Wickes shows up in town with a frightening story and in need of McNee’s assistance, things soon cease to look quite so cut-and-dried.
If you’re at all like me, dear reader, then you’re skeptical of private eye novels first and missing girl novels doubly-fucking-so. But let the Nerd ease your fears by saying that Russel D. McLean is far too exciting and original to do exactly what you might expect with such material. But then again, if you’d read The Good Son then you’d pick up The Lost Sister even if the jacket said some bullshit like it was about a 6′ 5″ ex-military drifter who plays fucking white-hat cowboy in whatever town he blows into. (For that matter, if you’d read The Good Son you also wouldn’t need to read my bullshit review before picking it up either…so there’s that…)
Russel D. McLean is the rare author who does no-shit character-based PI stories. The Lost Sister is indeed about interviewing folks and putting shoe leather to pavement, about surprises and twists and murder and long-buried secrets – all that classic shit you’ve come to expect from the genre. But though he may draw you in with the old tropes, what you really get wrapped up is McNee himself. In his inner struggle against his guilt and anger, against whether or not his interest in the missing girl is truly altruistic or just a function of his own tortured ego, his need to play savior in whatever small way he can in the wake of his wife’s recent death. Through McNee’s turmoil of the soul, McLean is not only calling into question his character’s motivations for seeing the case through, but the motivations of all detective heroes ever. (But never in a disgustingly “meta” way, to be fucking sure, dear reader.)
In terms of the mystery plot itself, McLean knows how to keep shit down-to-earth. Never will you roll your eyes at the enormity of the conspiracy or the amount of thugs and hardasses McNee has to punch out or be punched out by. There are some surprises and turns to be had, for sure, but they never feel less than organic to the very realistic world that is McLean’s Dundee. And though there’s no hokey gun fights and car chases to be found in The Lost Sister, it still manages to rarely be pitched at anything less than fucking ridiculous levels of compelling.
If you’re not reading the McNee novels you’re missing out on the massive heights that can be achieved within the traditional PI novel. Russel D. McLean is undoubtedly one of the most vital voices in the genre, a writer capable of ripping your fucking heart out with the humanity of his characters then pinning your ass to the chair with the freshness and pace of his storytelling. If you’ve come to expect more from a crime novel than that, dear reader, please write the Nerd up a fucking reading list toot-fucking-sweet.