An Ode to Lois Duncan
I think I was 14 before I discovered that I could buy books at school. I don’t remember what the program was called, but it was very similar to (if not the same as) the Scholastic program I run at my school now; flyers come out, you pick the books you want, mum provides a cheque and the books come to your classroom. One of the books that I ordered (and that arrived so promptly) was something called Summer of Fear, and it had quite a disturbing cover, as you can see. I was past my Nancy Drew phase and well into Agatha Christie by this time and looking for mysteries in any form. This sounded very mysterious; a visiting cousin, that even looks a little like our heroine, starts to gaslight her. Everyone loves said cousin, so no one believes our heroine. Great fun!!
Summer of Fear was my first; my first Lois Duncan. After reading it, I then, in true obsessive fashion had to find everything the woman had ever written. Killing Mr. Griffin followed Summer of Fear, then I Know What you Did Last Summer. Then everything else she had written. All psychological thrillers before “gripping psychological thrillers” were a thing, or even a genre. I had all of Lois Duncan’s books (and still have them) and even hooked my brother on them. He used to snatch them from me as soon as I finished them. Now, again, this was the 80’s so there was no Amazon to tell you when the next one was coming out, no author website to keep you up to date on the author’s life. All I knew was that around 1990, new Lois Duncan books stopped. I looked every time I went into a bookstore but by then I’d moved onto Stephen King, so I wasn’t too concerned. I never thought to look in the adult section though. Maybe I should have after finding Judy Blume there. But this wasn’t like Judy Blume.
It was ten years later that I found a new Lois Duncan on the adult shelves. It was called Who Killed My Daughter. I can still remember reaching up to take it down to read the back, not believing that it was a true story. Seems there was a very good reason Lois Duncan stopped writing. She became somewhat obsessed with finding her daughter’s killer yet years later the case remains unsolved. Of course before the internet there was no way of knowing what had happened. Now, I can go to her website and read all about her career and what it felt like to try and write about teen killers when her own daughter had been killed. Back in the late 80’s I just knew there were no new Lois Duncan books.
Lois Duncan died two years ago, the mystery of her daughter’s death unsolved. I can only imagine what impact it must have had on her writing. To this day I have a love of the “gripping psychological thriller” which I attribute to her. I can go back and read Killing Mr. Griffin and enjoy it as much today as I did as a teen. A good indication of the legacy left by this gifted writer. I only hope she has found the peace she wasn’t able to find after the death of her daughter.