The Last Place You Look by Kristen Lepionka is a gripping debut and the first book in the new Roxane Weary series.
What a pleasant surprise this novel was, full of exuberance, life, and richness. The Last Place You Look is a journey shared with our main character, Roxane Weary. Roxane, “with one n,” is a private detective. She has been through a lot recently with the death of her father, a successful and respected police officer that happened to be terrible with his family. But her situation wasn’t easy. She was not close with her father, Frank. Roxane and her two brothers grew up with a distance between them and their father, mostly due to his alcoholism and gruff ways. Add in his mistreatment of the family members and his numerous affairs, and it quickly becomes a toxic mix, as we see here:
Be nice but not too fucking nice. I replayed that final conversation as I drove to see Kenny Brayfield. This was as close to fatherly wisdom as I was ever going to get. There were too many bad feelings between us, about my work, about his affairs, about the types of men and women I brought home. There wasn’t any peace. Neither of us ever apologized, and we wouldn’t have been interested in forgiving each other anyhow, not all the way, not then. But I thought that I didn’t have to decide about my father yet, that given enough time, the past would start to drop off the permanent record like a bad debt or a speeding ticket. I just wanted to wait. I thought there was time. But there wasn’t, and the part that bothered me most was how my father said I was like him, and how he was right.
Roxane is a character that jumps right off the page. She’s both tangible and realistic. When she experiences a hangover, I do too. Roxanne is also bisexual, an aspect of her character that feels natural to the story. She’s been seeing her father’s old partner since the funeral, and while they seem to make a good couple and share intimate moments that she’s determined to guard against, she is also playing with an older relationship with a high school classmate, Catherine. Roxane has her own demons, but she seems to be taking on her dad’s as well and battling them all together at the same time.
Be nice but not too fucking nice.
This is a recurring theme that is bestowed upon her courtesy of her father. In what was one of his more fatherly moments—if you could call it that—he blurts out some alcohol-laden, unsolicited life advice that eats at her, digging deep into her psyche and taking residence next to her other unresolved father issues. He didn’t approve of her bisexual lifestyle and hated to see her follow his career path, but that didn’t stop her in either aspect. Through all of her internal struggles with her father and his ghost, her external life starts to mirror her tortured insides.
Someday, I told myself, someday soon, I was going to resume life as a normal person. It was easy to think of my life now as broken into two segments—before my father was killed, and after. The after part seemed like it might unfold forever. Maybe it would.
She takes on a case when she’s at an all-time low and quickly becomes entangled. Serving as a distraction at first, it steadily becomes an obsession for closure—to prove that she can do it for herself and for her father. Her talent is obvious as we see her pull layer after layer back to expose a deep and long-lasting mystery. She is quite capable of taking care of herself, but she is still human. It’s in her most fragile moments that she really shines.
In a series of detoxing flashbacks, we see more of her story:
Then I was at his funeral, clinging to Andrew’s arm while the spindly heels of my borrowed shoes sank into the muddy area around my father’s grave. The officiant asked for a moment of silence and then, through the cold air, the crackle of radios and a voice rang out, clear and strong.
“Forty-one three oh one…”
My father’s badge number. This was the last radio call, the tribute my mother had selected instead of a three-volley salute, not wanting to hear gunfire. Around me, a ring of faces contorting.
“Forty-one three oh one… Calling number forty-one three oh one…
“This is the last call for radio number forty-one three oh one.
“No response from Detective Frank Weary. The time is sixteen hundred hours, February eighth. After thirty-eight years and four months of police service, radio number forty-one three oh one is ninety-seven on his final assignment. Forty-one three oh one is ten-seven forever. Rest In Peace, brother. We’ll take it from here.”
My whole body hurt, like each word was a car accident.
This is a debut novel for author Kristen Lepionka, but you wouldn’t guess that. Her ease of writing and natural style convey the image of a seasoned pro. Her character development is superb, and the pages are filled with suspense. Thriller, mystery, and hardboiled readers would do well to give this one a crack.
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Amber Keller is a writer who delves into dark, speculative fiction, particularly horror and suspense/thrillers. You can find her work on her Amazon Author Page and she also features many short stories on Diary of a Writer. A member of the Horror Writers Association, she contributes to many websites and eMagazines and you can follow her on Twitter @akeller9.