THE LAST PLACE YOU LOOK by KRISTEN LEPIONKA

Minotaur Books

2017

 

Kristen Lepionka has introduced the world to Roxane Weary and made me love the PI genre all over again. Lepionka’s protagonist is a straight-up, no apologies Private Investigator in the fine tradition of Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, and Jessica Jones. That is something that has seemed to be a rarity of late. She’s not an ex-military do-gooder, neither is she an un-licensed friend who is just trying to help out. She isn’t an ex-cop trying to live a peaceful life, and she sure isn’t a nosy reporter. These are all great ideas for a series hero, but it’s almost like the genre has been a bit ashamed of its investigative hero in the last few years. But now we’ve got Roxane leading the charge, and it’s a refreshing change.

With a nod to the PI’s hard-drinking tradition, THE LAST PLACE YOU LOOK starts with our hero answering a phone call after going off on a bender. Lepionka sets the tone perfectly with her excellent hard-boiled prose, “I was lying on the carpet underneath my desk. I’d only answered the call to make the shrill ringing stop. The inside of my mouth tasted like whipped cream and whiskey, and the sound of my breathing was like a roaring thunderstorm in my head, but at least I was alone and in my own apartment.”

With that ominous phone call, we are off. Dannielle Stockton hires Roxane to prove that her brother Brad is innocent of killing his girlfriend’s mother and father fifteen years ago. He is currently on death row and is about to be executed. The case is cold and all hope seems lost. But a paying customer is a paying customer. Who is Roxane to turn away business? As Roxane begins her investigation through the toney suburbs of Columbus, Ohio, she starts to realize that the wealth of the small town she’s poking around in may just be covering up not only the identity of the real killer, but also a number of unsolved missing young girls. The more she asks around, the more powerful local officials want her out. What are the real secrets hidden deep in the past of this small Ohio town? If Roxane wants to beat the clock and keep an innocent man on death row from being executed, she’ll have to face not only the local forces stacked against her, but also the demons that lurk in her own family’s past.

Anyone can give you what you want. That’s just being an order taker. Clearly, Kristen Lepionka isn’t interested in that. THE LAST PLACE YOU LOOK doesn’t just give you the PI tropes that will scratch a mystery fan’s itch. It turns those tropes on their head, spins them around a few times, and gives you something new and unexpected. If the mystery genre is meant to grow and change and attract new readers, it will be on the merit of its new authors. Roxane Weary is on the forefront of this new wave of protagonists. And with Lepionka’s sure hand writing her adventures, it’s abundantly clear that the kids are alright.

 

Dan Malmon