Joseph Lewis‘s thriller Stolen Lives explores the subject of human trafficking, particularly sexual exploitation of young boys.
Fourteen-year-old Brett McGovern, ripped from his home two years ago, has been held captive in a hideaway together with eleven other victims his age or younger. Now Stephen Bailey and his friend Michael Erickson are snatched from the street on their way home and brought to the same dreadful lair to share the fate of its inhabitants. Every boy that ends up in this unlawful prison has been carefully “selected” by his predators on the basis of his good looks and athleticism and then watched until the right moment to be abducted. Every boy vanishes without a trace. Every boy is robbed of his virtue, innocence, dignity, and health at the hands of the ruthless perverts subjecting him to unspeakable sexual, physical, and psychological abuse. Every boy is disposable, as soon as he gets ill or when he grows past his “desirable” age; then he receives two bullets in his head, execution style, and is dumped in some faraway location never to be found. None of the boys has any hope of survival.
When George Tokay, a Navajo teen living in Arizona, accidentally witnesses one of the executions and reports it to the authorities, the FBI finally has hope of cracking the case. Agents Pete Kelliher and Summer Storm, who have been trying to track down the predators for the past two years, can finally break into the criminal ring, operating in several states, and rescue the boys.
But now they have to protect George too, who has also become a prey. As the manhunt for the criminals escalates, the FBI agents realize that the perpetrators are two steps ahead of them, which points to a possible mole within their ranks. Who can you trust when everyone is under suspicion? Pete Kelliher has to keep the information privy to only a very close circle. With every passing hour the chances of finding the boys slip away, and the stakes go higher.
Stolen Lives is a fast-paced, adrenaline-laced story that accelerates your heartbeat and keeps your eyes glued to the page from start to finish. One of the most important tasks that every author has to accomplish is to create characters that the reader will care enough about to keep reading. Joseph Lewis has accomplished this task. We care deeply about the abducted boys during their ordeal in captivity and the potential victims. We admire and respect the FBI agents risking their lives in their hunt of the criminals. We want nothing else but for them to find and rescue the boys and then punish their tormentors.
Rape, especially the rape of minors, is a tough subject to write about. Joseph Lewis does it masterfully. He avoids explicit description, yet we get a vivid picture of the horror that the victims go through. That takes talent.
Stolen Lives is fiction, but it reads like true-crime nonfiction, thanks to the author’s extensive research of the subject and his experience as a professional counselor of abused children. The staggering statistics on the number of vanished and murdered children that Lewis skillfully inserts into the narration give the novel a feeling of case study.
Stolen Lives reads as a stand-alone novel, but it is the first book in the trilogy. There is a prequel to it too, also published this year, titled Taking Lives, which introduces the main characters and depicts events transpiring two years earlier.