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Review: Their Lost Daughters

Their Lost Daughters audiobook cover. A man and woman with their backs to the viewer. Their Lost Daughters by Joy Ellis.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars. ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Duration: 9 hrs 46 mins.

Their Lost Daughters, Jackman and Evans Book 1 (Recommended Reading Order) by Joy Ellis is a haunting crime thriller set in the wild Lincolnshire fens, and following investigative duo DI Rowan Jackman and DS Marie Evans as they struggle to keep order in a rural community full of secrets. When a local girl goes missing and another is found dead, Jackman and Evans must rally the troops to find the person responsible before they claim any more victims.

Audible Summary: "Deep in the muddy fields of the Lincolnshire Fens, a teenage girl is found wandering, delirious, claiming to have been drugged at a party. Metres away, the drowned body of another girl is found on an isolated beach. And all this on a small stretch of land where, nearly 10 years ago, the shocking disappearance of a young girl remains an open case. For DI Rowan Jackman and DS Marie Evans, the pressure is on to bring the perpetrators of these shocking crimes to justice. Are the crimes linked? Who are these young girls? And what on earth is going on under the green and pastured land of the Lincolnshire Fens?"

Despite a lot of 'hype' surrounding the launch of this series, including a very compelling TV campaign and trailer featuring the audiobook's narrator, Richard Armitage, I had heard so many mixed reports that I wasn't sure if it was really going to be my cup of tea. I used to listen to a lot of crime/thriller series, my favourites being those by Val McDermid, Stuart McBride, James Oswald, Kathy Reichs, and Ann Cleeves. This year my health restrictions have meant that I've retreated into lighter, more escapist offerings such as romance novels, getting my police-procedural fix from gentler crime fiction and cozy mysteries. However, the lure of a favourite narrator eventually outweighed my reservations; the temptation to snuggle up in bed with Armitage's soothing baritone beside me finally parting me from another precious Audible credit. (Damn that man, what his voice-acting career has cost me in audiobook credits is only surpassed by how much sleep it has also deprived me of as I override the well-intentioned timer to listen to just one more chapter...)

When the story began I was a little uncertain that even a great narrator would save it, as it was rather slow to get going and felt somewhat indistinguishable from countless other police series. My concerns were short-lived, as I quickly warmed to the dedicated DI Jackman and appreciated the respect he showed for his colleagues and the vulnerable members of the public who looked to him for answers. It's always nice to meet a lead detective in a crime novel who is fairly well-adjusted, comfortable with the strong women on his team, and not perpetually tortured by a lost love, previous case, or horrible tragedy. I am sure this will change as the series progresses and we learn more about him, and how he comes to live alone in a windmill line a brooding Jonathan Creek, but it was refreshing that he was not introduced as a man solely defined by those common tropes. (The tragic backstory fell instead to his partner, Evans, whom we learn is a young widow.)

It appears to be pitched very much in the style of the ITV drama Broadchurch, but does not have its complexity or the same ability to confound until the big reveal. Their Lost Daughters is full of clich├ęs, stereotypes, and people we have seen before, but it is also accessible and familiar because of them. The big revelation was obvious early on, but there were still enough twists and turns to hold my attention and the tragedies at its heart were as moving as they were disturbing. If you're looking for a groundbreaking new crime series then this audiobook is unlikely to satisfy, but if you are comfortable with the standard police-procedural format (and the creative licenses taken with real-world procedures, budgets, and timescales) then you could come to enjoy Joy Ellis' new fenland team as much as I did. The way the marshy coastal landscape and local dialect is woven throughout the story helps it feel almost otherworldly to a suburban Southerner. Ellis does well to use the natural environment to foster a creepy atmosphere, with eerie, isolated farmhouses rising up out of the same mist that so deftly conceals smugglers' tunnels and strangers with malicious intent.

Richard Armitage's performance adds dimension to each of the characters he translates from the page, and this is one series in which I really think that anyone reading the print version is missing out. It is no secret that I would happily listen to Armitage read the phone book aloud - and would probably still award him five-stars even if he pronounced his own name incorrectly - but he really is engaging enough to have earnt it. His performance is always immersive and a pleasure to listen to, so he is one of only a handful of narrators whose name can prompt me to try a book that I would not otherwise have bought (as it did on this occasion).

I'd recommend this audiobook to people who like police procedural dramas, especially those with strong regional roots such as the Vera Stanhope or Shetland series' by Ann Cleeves.

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