Book Review

A LOVELY GIRL by Deborah Holt Larkin

I received a complimentary advanced copy of A LOVELY GIRL: THE TRAGEDY OF OLGA DUNCAN AND THE TRIAL OF ONE OF CALIFORNIA’S MOST NOTORIOUS KILLERS by Deborah Holt Larkin. Thank you to Pegasus Crime, the author, and Wunderkind PR for the chance to provide an honest review.

Publication Date: 10/4/2022

A LOVELY GIRL is the true crime account of a 1958 case in which a young pregnant nurse named Olga Duncan goes missing one night. The investigation uncovers a complicated family and an intense rivalry with Olga’s mother-in-law such that her husband is living with his mother, not with his pregnant wife. The case caught headlines and therefore caught the author as a young girl.

Interspersed with the information on the case, the investigation, and the trial and ultimate punishment, we are also getting the author’s memories from that period of time. This includes her recollections of what she heard about the case in the news and from her reporter father and social worker mother, but also her day to day life with her family, her exploration of religion, and more.

I really liked the way the author delivers the case to the reader. It is done in a narrative format that reads just like a fictional account, but of course the truth is stranger than fiction. Every turn of the story seem stranger than the last even as it heads to a heartbreaking conclusion. We know from the subtitle that this is a murder investigation, but I liked the way the narrative leads us along the investigation from the beginning where those doing the investigation aren’t sure what was going on.

There were places in the author’s recollections of the way her mother’s job working at a mental hospital and her patients were talked about that definitely caught my attention. Working in mental health, I do recognize this was written about ideas and interactions from 1958 without being seen through a modern lens. I did appreciate the ways her mother explained about mental illness and helped educate her. It is something I wanted to mention though in case it might be triggering. Hearing about the state hospital was very interesting as I have had interactions with the hospital network in my job.

This wasn’t a case with which I had any familiarity, but I did recognize some of the places mentioned form my own time living in the Santa Barbara area which was a lot of fun, even if my recollections of them were a lot less tied to a murder!

Happy Publication Day to A LOVELY GIRL!


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