When a homeless teenage girl wakes up in Houston’s Tranquility Park next to a murdered city councilman and then disappears, Homicide Investigator Luis Perez turns to his ex-partner Niki Alexander. Now a counselor with a teen shelter, she may be his only hope in locating the girl. Three years earlier Niki quit the Houston Police Department after a fatal shooting involving a teenage boy. Haunted by the memory and the guilt, she is driven to help troubled teens who have run away or been abandoned. Soon she suspects that the missing teen is a street girl she knows as Jade. Niki fears there is more of a connection between Jade and the murdered man than was initially apparent. Niki’s search takes her among homeless teens, and into predominantly male gay bars, where dangerous secrets are revealed. She soon realizes she isn’t the only one desperate to find the girl. The closer she gets to the truth, the more her own life is at risk.
“Elvebak delivers a gritty mystery focusing on the sad and traumatic lives of runaway teens. Plenty of red herrings are offered along with a suspenseful plot and realistic characters. Elvebak’s credible dialogue enhances the story, which moves at a fast pace. Visual imagery is at times graphic, although essential to this well-written thriller.”
—Midwest Book Review
“Less Dead will really keep you on the edge of your seat and turning the pages.”
—Martha A. Cheves, A Book and A Dish
“Houston’s Tranquility Park is anything but tranquil as the sun moves across the downtown Houston skyline. For Jessica Keeling it has been a very hard last several months since her father vanished. But, this much worse as this is the first time she has woken up next to a dead man. A man that she just might have killed. Drugged the night before, she has no memory and as such has no idea what happened.
“Known by the street name of “Jade” to one and all, Jessica has only a couple of people she can count on. One is a street tough guy known as “Rube.” The other is “Niki Alexander” a counselor for a local runaway shelter known as “Open Palms.” Before she can get to either of them, she makes a mistake and disappears.
“Meanwhile, Sergeant Luis Perez is looking for a teenager lastseen fleeing the area of Tranquility Park. A teenager somewhat fitting Jade’s description was seen running from the area right before the deadman was discovered. It could have been Jade. It could have been another homeless teenage girl as the vague description fits so many runaways. What is clear is that along with a murder mystery, there is another problem as teen girls are going missing on the streets. Previously partneredwith Niki before she left the force, he knows nobody else knows the street kids like Niki does and he needs her help.
“As this occasionally very graphic novel in terms of language and the descriptive imagery of abuse and dead bodies unfolds, author Laura Elvebak casts an unflinching look at the teen homeless problem. Set in Houston before Hurricane Ike, the novel considers those that are truly are “Less Dead” and left to fend for themselves by any means necessary. In so doing, she also considers those who would prey upon such children as well as the many types of people who make up the street scene.
“Along the way she tells a twisting story of murder and abuse primarily through Niki and Jade. While both characters come from different walks of life both are just trying to survive day to day in their different economic situations. For the street teenager Jade, the hope that she might be reunited with her father keeps the spirit alive inside of her. For the counselor Niki, she seeks redemption for the past and a chance to get put a tragedy for which she feels no end of guilt behind her. While the physical threats and internal emotional demons are different, they are no less real, and it becomes questionable whether either character will survive body and soul. Despite the fact that virtually every character in this novel has classic clichéd and stereotypical ingredients, author Laura Elvebak makes the ingredients work and creates characters that readers come to care about.”
A Review from Kevin’s Corner:
Texas Author Laura Elvebak introduced readers to counselor Nikki Alexander and the plight of homeless teens in Houston in her novel “Less Dead.” While the subject matter of homeless kids is painful for any caring parent, the book was a good one filled with plenty of realistic characters and mystery. Nikki Alexander and many others return in this sequel titled the “Lost Witness.”
While outside the shelter known as “Open Palms” one fall evening on another matter, one of her kids known as “Barky” brings Nikki a very young child. A seemingly scared Barky claims to know nothing about the boy and quickly vanishes back into the Houston night. The boy is dirty, incredibly thin and shivering from the cool fall air. With nobody available from the police or other workable options, Nikki takes him home for the night. Clearly the child has been traumatized and Nikki is still very concerned about the boy when she meets with the police and a caseworker for Child Protective Services the next day.
Before long, it becomes clear that the boy may have witnessed his own mother’s murder. With Barky missing and possibly having crucial knowledge in the case, the police in the form of her old partner Sergeant Luis Perez and his new partner Nelson Spalonetti need her help. They aren’t the only ones who are looking for Barky and the mute little boy. With so many looking for the kids, it becomes imperative that Nelson and Nikki solve the case first to protect both kids.
Featuring many of the same characters as the first book, author Laura Elvebak has crafted another well done cozy style mystery with some romance. While the focus is on solving the case, there is no denying the heat generated between Nelson and Nikki which leads to some descriptive erotic scenes that for some readers push the boundaries of the cozy genre. Those pleasant interludes between Nelson and Nikki are not forced and come about naturally as a result of character development and storylines.
Billed as a sequel, this book could easily be read as a very enjoyable stand alone. Matters in the first book are briefly referenced in such a way as to not prevent readers from reading that book later.
Lost Witness – Review by Martha A. Cheves, Author of Stir, Laugh, Repeat
‘Barky looked forward to celebrating his sixteenth birthday by getting high. He grinned at his reflection in the storefront window, admiring the Mohawk he had shaped with a discarded razor in the Shop-N-Stop restroom. With a furtive sweep of the street, he veered off onto a gravel drive behind a strip mall. Satisfied no one could see him, he two-fingered the blunt from his jeans pocket. Soo-weeeet!… A noise distracted him and he coughed out smoke. His eyes snapped open. He froze. Sounded like a rat. Barky hated rats, terrified they’d find him asleep in some doorway and use his skinny-ass body for an appetizer.’
Barky is a street kid and when he picks up a tire iron and goes in search of the rat that interrupted his birthday celebration he found instead the beaten body of a woman. But that’s not all he found. Hidden behind the dumpster was the woman’s child who clung to Barky like glue. Wednesday was “Street Church” night so when he spotted Niki in the crowd he decided she would be the perfect person to turn his little friend over to. Niki is an ex-police officer who works as a counselor at Open Palm, a shelter for street kids. Barky was one of her “kids” so he knew she would take good care of the little boy.
After talking to the police, Niki learns that the child’s mother was a drug mule smuggling drugs from Mexico into Houston. As much as she would love to keep him, Niki knows that she must turn him over to social services who will place him in a foster home. But when he turns up missing, she will leave no rock unturned until she finds him.
Lost Witness is a spellbinding story that involves murder, drugs and love. It gives you the insight of what really goes on in the minds of the kids that have been swept out into the streets by parents and society. It gives you hope that people like Niki really do exist and their devotion to these kids will making a difference. Plus, Lost Witness will make you realize that the drug dealers will stop at nothing to acquire their drugs and make their sales. This was a very intense book that I couldn’t put down.