Lost Kings
by Johnson, Tyrell

"A riveting psychological thriller about a woman forced to confront the darkest moment in her childhood in order to move on from her past and open her heart to love. One night when Jeanie King is twelve years old, her father comes home covered in blood. The next day, Jeanie wakes up alone. Her father has disappeared and he's taken her beloved twin brother, Jamie. Inevitably, this loss leads to others, as Jeanie is ripped from her life in rural Washington and her childhood love, Maddox. Twenty years later, Jeanie, now in England, keeps her demons at bay by drinking too much, sleeping with a married man, and speaking to a therapist she doesn't respect. But her past catches up to her in the form of Maddox, who shows up at her dead-end job with a proposition: he's found her father, he says, will she come with him to confront her dad and find out what really happened that night, what really happened to Jamie? At once a heart-pounding mystery and an affecting exploration of love and the familial ties that bindus, The Lost Kings is a propulsive read that will transport, move, and shock you"-

Tyrell Johnson is a father, writer, and editor. His post-apocalyptic novel The Wolves of Winter (Scribner 2018) was an international bestseller. Originally from Bellingham Washington, he now lives in Kelowna British Columbia.

Blending a coming-of-age tale with a psychological thriller, Johnson's second novel (following The Wolves of Winter, 2019) begins in a cabin on the coast of Washington State, where 12-year-old Jeanie King and her twin brother, Jamie-grieving their mother's death-are enduring abuse from their alcoholic and PTSD-affected father. The story, narrated by Jeanie, jumps between what happened before and after her father returns to the cabin covered in blood and disappears with Jamie, and 20 years later, with Jeanie living in Oxford, England, mired in a destructive relationship with her professor. A sense of foreboding and unspecified menace hang over Jeanie's narration; we sense that something is distinctly off here, but we aren't sure whether Jeanie is simply withholding information or whether she is as uncertain as we are about her past. The clouds begin to part after Maddox, Jeanie's childhood friend, arrives in England with the news that he might know where her father has been hiding. The genuinely stunning twist at the end, as the chasm between internal and external worlds narrows, will leave readers reeling. Copyright 2022 Booklist Reviews.

Chapter 1


The elevator doors open and an old lady enters.

As she shuffles in, she doesn't see me leaning against the back wall. She's wearing a scratchy-looking purple sweater, purple sweatpants, and glasses with lenses as thick as my thumb. She turns to face the doors as they slide closed. I watch, waiting for her to press the button to her floor. As the elevator begins to move, I feel obliged to say something.

"Fifth floor?" I ask, nodding to the small white 5 on the panel, lit with golden light.

She turns, her eyes wide as if surprised to see me. "What's that?"

"Are you going to the fifth floor?" I ask a little louder.

"No, no, fourth," she says, turning back around. She still hasn't pressed a button, and now I have a social obligation. I don't know how to do this without making her feel stupid, so I lean forward and press the button for her. She says nothing. I look over at her white hair, which is sticking up at all angles as if she's just been electrocuted. She's got way too much hair spray on. It's pungent. Suffocating. A single flame in here and she'd light up like a Christmas tree. She's the type of old that doesn't really notice the world around her-I'm pretty sure she's already forgotten that I'm in the elevator. I could give her a heart attack if I wanted. Grab her shoulder, scream, and watch her drop like a fainting goat. That image shouldn't be funny to me, I know that, but I can't help myself. Bad thoughts find me; I don't go looking. The elevator stops and the doors open to the fourth floor. The woman gets off, and I have the small space, still fragrant with her hair spray, to myself.

Suddenly I feel the weight of all the decisions I've made leading to this point. It sits in my throat like bad acid reflux. My therapist tells me that we are the products of all the choices we've made in our lives, and each day is a new choice, a chance to reshape who and what we are. I will myself to step out of the elevator, to be someone different, to not do what I've come there for. Maybe I could join the old lady for a cup of tea, spray my own head with copious amounts of flammable chemicals. We could play bridge, become best friends. I'd call William, tell him it's over.

The doors begin to close, and I reach out a hand to press the open button, my finger hovering over the plastic as I wait for myself to push forward, to watch the golden light fill the small white circle. But I don't. I lower my hand. The doors hum shut.


I knock on the door of flat 502. After a few seconds of silence, it snaps open. And there he is, William, smile on his face, slight stubble gracing his angular chin, eyebrows straight over pale blue eyes. His hair is unkempt and slightly graying around the ears, and he's wearing a white dress shirt tucked into jeans. On anyone else it would look ridiculous, but because he's attractive, because he's a brilliant professor, somehow it's endearing.

"Jeanie," he says. "There's my girl." He doesn't mind that I'm ten minutes late; he's just happy to see me. And his happiness is like measles-it's airborne, highly contagious.

"How's the conference?" I ask, stepping through the doorway. The room has a small living area, TV, kitchenette, and bedroom behind a partially closed door. From the window on the far side of the room, I can see the Thames and Saint Paul's Cathedral-I make a mental note to visit the latter. I'm not religious, but I like the small inward feeling I get when standing beneath those stone pillars, the ancient holy art, and the great dome, which seems to rise endlessly toward the heavens.

"Oh, you know," William says. "If you've been to one . . ." He waves a hand. He doesn't want to talk about the conference, or business, even though I know he presented an important paper to important people. He doesn't want to talk at all, actually. But I like to chitchat with him first, watch him squirm, wait for that moment when his patience is just tipping toward annoyance before I take my clothes off.

"Presentation went well?" I ask.

"It usually does," he says in that confident way he has, like he doesn't even know he's being confident, like it's this gut reaction he has to the world around him. Oddly enough, it's part of what attracted me to him in the first place. The way he looks at you over the top of his glasses. How his gaze travels to the pit of your stomach and tells you that you are not, in fact, better than him. We've been doing this for fifteen years now, and that gaze still gets me. I need it like a fix.

"So," he says, starting to move toward the bedroom.

"Tea?" I ask.

He pauses, deciding whether to force the issue or play my game. "Sure," he says, going along with it. He goes to the small kitchenette and fills the kettle with tap water and sets the lid down with a satisfying tick. I was never a tea drinker before moving to the UK. Now, God, that little tick-it's the sound of satisfaction, joy, hope.

"How long are you in London this time?" I ask.

He turns away from the kettle. He's got a weird little smile on his face, like he's copped to what I'm doing and won't let me play any longer.

"Does it matter?" he asks.

"I'd like to know when you'll be back home. Is there something wrong with that?"

"I don't think you give a fuck," he says. He's trying to bait me. To excite me.

"Maybe I don't," I say. Well, shit, I've lost my modicum of power; now we're playing his game. He has that skill. The ability to subvert expectations, to make you think you want one thing before revealing this other thing that, yes, oh, this other thing that you want so much more. Damn him. He reaches out and grabs my hand. I notice his wedding ring, and for the hundredth time-well, maybe not the hundredth-I picture his wife, Holly. I've met her a few times. She's blonde and beautiful and pristine like a porcelain figurine. She makes me wonder why he bothers with me. That damn ring. I wish he'd take the stupid thing off. How hard could it be to slip it somewhere I can't see before I arrive? But he never does. It's another power play. He thinks he can do anything he wants.

But what does it matter? I let myself be led, don't I? I'm even unzipping my jacket as we enter his bedroom. He closes the door and there's another tick as the metal tongue of the latch slides into place. It's a different sound this time, one with a more nefarious meaning. My sweater is up over my head now. Now his hands are on the back of my neck. Now my hands are on the brown belt holding up his light blue jeans. Before sliding into bed, I reach out and grab his hand and carefully slip the wedding ring off his ring finger. He looks at me, suspicious, but doesn't say a word. I heft the weight of it in my palm for half a second, feeling his nerves radiate from his pores. The room feels gravy-heavy. Then I slide the ring over my thumb, a near-perfect fit.

I'm in control now.

The bed creaks beneath us.

In the kitchenette, the kettle begins to scream.


That evening for dinner, I buy myself fish and chips and a pint of Guinness at the nearest pub. The fries are extra greasy, and I make a mental note to do some burpees in my hotel room that night to make up for the calories. I'd go for a run, but my hotel isn't near any parks and I don't like running in the city. I'm eating in silence while checking out the waiter. He's got a nice smile but is definitely shorter than me. It wouldn't be a deal breaker if not for his sideburns. Who has sideburns anymore? I astonish myself with the realization that I'm actually considering taking him back to my hotel room. But why not? William will be at some fancy party tonight celebrating his paper with his fellow professors. Why do I have to spend my evening alone? I take my time, drinking two more pints, listening to the Proclaimers bang away in the overhead speakers-five hundred miles plus five hundred miles equals one thousand miles. I decide not to sleep with the waiter. I can still feel William's body pressed against me, like his skin cells are commingling with mine in a microscopic dance: keratinocytes, melanocytes, Merkel cells, and Langerhans cells all having a party beneath a thin layer of cotton.

By the time I'm done eating, the city is suffocated in twilight. Traffic along the Thames has slowed to a steady crawl of serious drinkers, partiers, and the homeless. Most of the tourists are at shows or restaurants, or they've retired for the evening. I'm not a big-city person generally, but I do prefer the feel of European cities to American. It's the sound of heels on cobbled streets. The old stone, old wood, Gothic architecture, and history saturating every square inch. In old cities like London, especially at night, you feel as though you're walking with a horde of ghosts.

I buy one of the last tickets of the day for the London Eye and ride the giant Ferris wheel in its lazy circle. I do this almost every time I visit London. There's something relaxing about it. About watching the city descend beneath your feet, the Thames growing thin and the people small. I sit on the bench as, beside me, a beautiful East Indian couple snaps pictures, takes selfies, and records a video for their vlog, or Instagram, or Snapchat, or whatever people are using these days. Something about them annoys me. I think maybe it's the mere fact of their presence in a space I'd rather have to myself. As we're reaching the zenith of our circuit, they approach me and ask if I'd take their picture for them and I shake my head no as if punishing them for intruding on my solitude. At first they seem confused. Is it possible? they think. Can people actually deny this simple social nicety? I give them a smile to show I wish them no ill will, but the smile seems to confuse them even more. Eventually they walk away and ask a young man in a puffy vest, and he obliges them.

The carriage begins its slow descent, the moon rising as a counterbalance, cold and sharp and crescent. I reach inside my jacket, pull out a Snickers bar-drinking Guinness always makes me crave chocolate-and begin to eat in slow, methodical bites. Twenty more burpees when I get back to my hotel, I think. But I don't care; the sugar is luminescent on my tongue, as if I can taste in color.

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