Armstrong begins a new series starring female detective Casey Duncan, set in the remote wilderness of the Canadian Yukon, in City of the Lost.
This novel features a unique setting—an off-the-grid town, Rockton, populated with people who need to disappear. How did the setting affect your character development?
The residents of Rockton are in hiding, meaning they’re allowed—even encouraged—to create new identities. For some, that’s very positive, freeing them from the baggage of their pasts. For others, it encourages them to indulge in the worst aspects of their nature, knowing it can’t follow them home. It’s not unlike what we can experience on the Internet, with its promise of anonymity, except this encompasses more than just that corner of their daily lives. The setting allowed me to explore the nature of identity and expression in a unique way, particularly with the characters who’ve seized the opportunity to present the best side of themselves while stifling darker aspects.
How did the community’s isolation affect your storytelling?
The really fun challenge was imagining how that extreme isolation would affect the plot. It’s largely a locked-room mystery. There are people outside Rockton, but the killer is almost certainly someone who lives in the town. And this isn’t a big city where the victims are faces in a newspaper. Everyone knows them. Plus, being off-the-grid means no cell phones, no Internet, no crime lab. It really is old-school policing for a detective young enough to have never solved a crime where she can’t send DNA in for analysis.
You tackle ideas of women’s safety in this novel. Was that a deliberate choice?
It was deliberate, partly as a way to explore safety in all its forms and partly as a way of pushing Rockton’s sheriff, Eric Dalton, out of his comfort zone. Dalton is absolutely dedicated to fulfilling the basic promise the town makes to its residents: that they’ll be safe. That isn’t easy when he’s thwarted by everything from the local wildlife to the corrupt town council. Another problem is that he’s grown up in Rockton. He may be the expert on local policing, but he’s less aware of issues law enforcement faces “down south.” Because he takes every complaint seriously, it never occurs to him that women might be having problems they aren’t reporting. When Casey arrives, it will be obvious to her that there are problems requiring solutions... but it’s not nearly as obvious what those solutions should be. It’s not a simple topic, and the setting gave me a chance to explore some of those complications.