Lois Duncan is a long time author of well-written juvenile and Young Adult novels. Most are suspenseful-- thrillers even-- often with some supernatural elements, and were always a cut above the usual teen mysteries. In fact, she was recently named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America. Her best known titles are Killing Mr. Griffin and I Know What You Did Last Summer, and both are two sterling examples of why one should not judge a book by its movie--especially not the latter title.
In 1989, Duncan suffered a tragic loss when her daughter was killed in an apparent random shooting. As the shock wore off, Duncan began to question the official account of her daughter’s death and started making inquiries of her own. Duncan’s investigations took her into some very dark areas. She hired private detectives, talked to people who dealt in fraud, and even engaged psychics. Chillingly, it appeared that some of the plots of Duncan’s books mirrored things that happened in Kaitlyn’s life not long before her murder.
While I’m not an avid reader of true crime stories, I do read them on occasion. I picked this one up because I was an admirer of Duncan’s fiction and had been shocked to learn of her daughter’s murder. I found it to be a compelling book that dealt not only with untangling clues and a mother’s grief, but with the supernatural as well. Duncan consulted psychics and mediums. She tried to maintain a healthy skepticism, but occasionally things she learned fit all too well with the physical evidence. She dealt with her own grief and anger and her growing obsession to learn what really happened to her daughter.
Among the revelations was that Kait’s boyfriend had been involved in several staged car accidents for insurance. These "accidents" weren’t just small potatoes insurance fraud: they were part of a multi-million dollar organized crime ring. Kait was aware of this; had she been about to blow the whistle? Or was there something even bigger going on?
Even stranger was that police officers took an interest in the case would suddenly lose interest. Promising leads were given, but apparently never followed up on. Could the police be involved? Or was it more a matter of incompetence and a cover-up?
It’s been a good twenty years since I read Who Killed My Daughter? but parts of it remain vivid. It’s a true crime story, but it’s one that avid true crime readers might not enjoy in part because there is no resolution. Duncan deals with her own grief and the grief of the family as the various members try to cope in their own ways. The supernatural aspects are handled well, I thought. Duncan is so desperate for information that she’s willing to try anything no matter how far-fetched, but she is all too aware of how easy it can be to dupe people in her situation. There’s a spiritual component to the book. But most of all, it’s a giant puzzle: there are so many threads of evidence, things that might be important—or might not, theories, conflicting witnesses, suppositions, and dead ends.
Had this been one of Duncan’s novels, there would have been some sort of closure; but this was real life and easy solutions are hard to come by. In most true crime books, evidence is presented, sometimes weighed in favor of the author’s theory, but there is almost always a favored theory. Not in this book; at the end, Duncan is still asking for leads, for anyone who knows anything to step forward.
The case has remained open in the intervening years. Duncan has appeared on various TV shows and continues to do interviews, asking for any leads. She and her husband have a website to aid other families with unsolved murders, helping them to formulate statements and to use media to draw attention their cases. She has written very little fiction in the intervening years, and only one YA novel, but has done a couple of non-fiction works—including one on psychics. Her most recent is a follow-up book, One to the Wolves: On the Trail of a Killer, with a foreword by the late Ann Rule and it’s going to go to the top of my TBR pile.
I do recommend Who Killed My Daughter? It’s not a book for everyone, but it’s a powerful and personal book about those left behind after a violent crime, especially when that crime remains unsolved.