Remembering Teen Suspense Novelist Lois Duncan
According to reports this morning in the Albuquerque Journal, young adult novelist Lois Duncan has died at the age of 82. Best known for her suspense novels, Duncan’s name is perhaps not as recognizable in the genre today as the likes of R. L. Stine and Christopher Pike, but she was certainly just as prolific, having published 48 books for a wide range of audiences. Several of her books were adapted into films, most notably the young adult thriller I Know What You Did Last Summer and the children’s novel Hotel for Dogs.
Duncan was apparently unafraid to take on a variety of writing projects; in addition to writing many successful novels for teens and children, she wrote over 300 articles in magazines like Redbook, Good Housekeeping and Reader’s Digest. She also took on several non-fiction works, including her most personal book, Who Killed My Daughter?
Who Killed My Daughter?
While Duncan was well-established as a suspense writer for teens everywhere, her own life became the center of a tragic mystery in 1989 when her teenage daughter, Kaitlyn, was violently gunned down in a seemingly random drive-by shooting on an empty Albuquerque street. The local police department seemed determined to make it an open-and-shut case by any means necessary. Over the following months, arrests were made and charges were filed but ultimately never stuck. Lois Duncan asserted that the entire thing stank of sloppy police work. Or a cover up.
Her daughter’s murder and the lack of answers in the period that followed led to her own investigation and a subsequent book — this one non-fiction — titled Who Killed My Daughter? Over the next 27 years, she never retreated from her insistence that the police had it wrong or — even worse — were covering something up. Duncan’s working investigative theory contended that Kaitlyn’s death was the result of her boyfriend’s alleged involvement in a Vietnamese organized crime ring that was running sophisticated and complex auto-insurance scams involving dubious lawyers, doctors and possibly members of the law enforcement community. Those who were unwilling to cooperate or otherwise got in the way were threatened with violence and death.
Lois Duncan never found the answers she was looking for; her daughter’s murder remains an unsolved mystery and part of the Albuquerque Police Department’s cold case files. For an excellent investigative account of the murder, the aftermath and Lois Duncan’s unwavering commitment to find her daughter’s killers, check out Tim Stelloh’s well-researched 2014 article on BuzzFeed.
In the years following her daughter’s death, Duncan found herself unable to write within the thriller/suspense genre, deciding instead to focus on children’s picture books and two other non-fiction accounts about her experiences after Kaitlyn’s murder. In 1997, eight years after the murder, Duncan released Gallows Hill, a supernatural thriller for young adults. Thought it received numerous honors and awards (and loosely inspired a TV movie) it remains the only suspense novel penned by Duncan after 1989.
Though her passing may not make headlines in major news outlets, Duncan will be remembered as a pioneer in the young adult novel genre who passionately dedicated the final decades of her life to finding her daughter’s killers.