karen's Reviews > The Last Place You Look

The Last Place You Look by Kristen Lepionka
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it was amazing
bookshelves: from-publisher-or-author

i added some pictures from her recent book-signing to the end of this, if you are interested in seeing what she looks like reading a book!

my interview with ms. lepionka is live NOW! check it out:

https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/a...

(and be sure to click those links so you can see her give a demonstration in lock-picking!)

My father always had a drink in his hand. It was part of him, like his broad shoulders or his temper or his antifreeze-blue eyes. It was the catalyst to every good time and every bad time he ever had. It was a magnifying glass he put himself under, revealing the truth of him. It was the only thing we had in common, the only thing we ever agreed on.

this is an unexpectedly strong debut.

debut novels are always a risk: synopses are written with the express purpose of enticing a reader, and blurbs are often the result of author friendships or other writers in the publisher's stable doing a favor for the team, and i usually doubt their sincerity. so, even though the wonderful james renner blurbed this book enthusiastically, i went into this a wary reader.

part of my apprehension was because i wasn't in love with the cover (i'm totally shallow, i know), but also because of the character. going into it knowing she was a bisexual private investigator with emotional damage and a drinking problem, i worried that it would be:

A) a clichéd genderswap of the noir archetype - sam spade in a skirt.

B) romantic suspense heavy on the romance (or at least on the intercoursing), light on the crime aspect.

C) some sort of lisbeth salander nonsense - a loose cannon of a woman operating outside of the law, defined by casual sex and violence with no emotional depth other than generic damage.

but it is not even one of those things.

i've read so many crime fiction/psych suspense novels this year featuring female investigators, whether professional or of the amateur sleuth variety, and nearly every one of them has been flat or stock in nature. which is fine for someone like me who can focus on the story aspect of a book even if it has weak characters, but is still a little disappointing. the only one i've read recently that came across as a real flesh-and-blood woman was conway in tana french's The Trespasser. but now i can add roxane weary to that tally. the two definitely wouldn't be friends if they met at some mystery novel character convention, but they would absolutely respect each other. for lepionka to have succeeded in both story and character her first time out is very encouraging for the future of her career.

sure, roxane has daddy issues, which can be a cliché in the "female in a traditionally male-dominated profession" character type, but her cop father was a complicated, near-legendary man, and his recent death in the line of duty left many people carrying the weight of issues - his wife, his sons, his former partner, and others with whom he'd worked in his 38 years on the force; people who revered him, despite his gruff, unfuzzy nature.

roxane and her brother andrew, in particular, find themselves in the same emotionally conflicted place:

"I think… that after losing Dad, you just don't want to pick back up and keep going."

I didn't respond right away. Then I said, "That's not true."

"It is."

"Why?"

"You're scared. That it would mean you're as over it as you're going to get."

I swallowed my second shot and thought about that. Neither of us had a good relationship with Frank, but that didn't make it any easier. In fact, it might've made it worse. "Aren't you?" I said.

"Roxane, I'm fucking terrified."


roxane became a private investigator despite her father's feelings on the matter, and she's very good at what she does. however, after his death she's been hitting the bottle harder than usual; wallowing in angry grief and not at her professional best when her brother matt sends a client her way; a woman named danielle stockton - the sister of a man who has been on death row for fifteen years after allegedly killing his girlfriend sarah's parents, and presumably sarah as well, who went missing the same night. danielle swears she saw sarah the other day, and needs someone to track her down, and soon, since brad's execution date has just been scheduled and she only has two months to prove his innocence. the police have plenty of evidence incriminating brad, and are unwilling to reopen the investigation, so danielle is desperate for assistance outside the police force.

desperation gets you roxane weary, struggling to cope even without the stress of investigating a case everyone considers solved, especially when she discovers a connection between sarah's disappearance and one of her father's cold cases.

already, the book has plenty to keep the reader interested - the ticking clock, the compromised sleuth, the shadow of her father as she follows in his footsteps… there's also excellent dramatic friction between roxane and the local police force, who do not want her investigating this matter. belmont, ohio is a town 13 sq. miles in size, where the police have little to do apart from responding to smalltown complaints, as roxane discovers when she gets herself a police scanner:

One thing was immediately clear: people in Belmont called the cops a lot.

Even shortly after ten in the morning, there were complaints about noise, about traffic jams at afternoon kindergarten drop-off at the Montessori school, about a suspicious individual entering a neighbor's house.

("I advised the caller that the individual was actually the neighbor, wearing a new coat.")


the cops don't want one of their few "big" cases undermined, and they have a professional disdain for private investigators, who although licensed, are not part of their blue family. roxane is dismissed as a pest; an amateur, despite her impressive track record.

this is literary crime fiction; it's not the kind of book that ends with a cliffhanger or a huge action sequence at every chapter's end, nor is there any skimping on character development. it's a more mature, steadily-paced novel that borrows elements from the noir sensibility without aping its stiff and stylized tone. this is noir with curves.*

the investigation process is handled well - the case unfolds unpredictably but not unrealistically. there are plenty of red herrings and misleading clues causing roxane to make some missteps and the reader is locked right in it with her. she does indeed prove to be an excellent investigator without coming across as a contrived mastermind solving the case without breaking a sweat. she's smart, but she's not infallible, and she makes many mistakes and errors in judgment along the way, but she's far from bumbling. even better - she gets hangovers and suffers like a human does, instead of just bouncing back to work the next day like some superhero.

that's the kind of stuff that excites me as a reader, that she's a believable, human character, and even more refreshing, she reads like a real woman instead of some neutered or hypermasculine figure. she's certainly not girly, but she's a woman, psychologically fleshed-out with a complex personal life full of self-sabotage and discomfort with emotional intimacy.

i loved the relationship between roxane and her father's former partner tom, and even more so her relationship with her brother andrew, which felt so damn genuine in its mix of respect and familial protectiveness.

"Roxane, you're a grown-ass woman and you can do whatever you want," he said, "but you're also my baby sister and I worry about you."

and yes - she has both a male and a female lover, but there's no gratuitous sex slapped in just to keep the reader distracted from a ho-hum crime plot, nor is her life some series of anonymous hookups. both relationships matter to her; they provide something essential to her, flawed as both relationships are.

The night of the funeral had been a protest fuck, an act of defiance. But we'd seen each other quite a few times in the nine months since. There was nothing to it, just stress relief, pain relief, all of the above. But I still needed those things.

and her need is deeper than she allows herself to admit.

a firecracker of a debut. and not one of those pussy little sparklers you give to kids -it's just an all-around excellent piece of crime fiction, and i'm hoping lepionka returns to this character in future books, because she's a breath of fresh air in a sea of half-assed, forgettable female sleuths.

also, i simply must applaud her taste in food, because a hot dog topped with sriracha cream cheese and Fritos and a side of Tater Tots sounds like something i need to be eating right now and also every night forever.


* i wish i could say that it is like megan abbott's excellent girlnoir, because comparisons are good for excitement-generating, but it's not. it's great in its own way, but abbott sticks to the noir tradition more formally, while giving it her own spin.
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kristen is delighted to be reading her book at bluestockings here in nyfc

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as she coquettishly flips her hair at her adoring fans

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and now we are best friends!

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and then i make her spin the cube, as all visitors must before they are allowed to leave

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i am so excited for the second book!

***********************************************
a high four that might even turn into a five once i give it a second pass for review purposes. which review i've been dillydallying with all week, so it should happen soon. but for now - definitely one for your to-read list. sez this lady.

come to my blog!
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Reading Progress

November 8, 2016 – Started Reading
November 8, 2016 – Shelved
November 12, 2016 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-34 of 34 (34 new)

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message 1: by Stacey (new) - added it

Stacey How are you getting an advance copy. I really HAVE to read this. And the the author lives in my hometown!!


Eliza Sucher i have to read this too but dont have the time with school and my drivers test over christmas break


Eliza Sucher wheres ur hometown??? if u dont mind me asking


karen Stacey wrote: "How are you getting an advance copy. I really HAVE to read this. And the the author lives in my hometown!!"

lemme see if i can work some magic your way...


Arah-Lynda "Noir with curves" I like that and this review has just left me jonesing to read the book. Thanks karen.


karen you are welcome! jones away! i will jones for that hot dog...


message 7: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez Yeah, the designer of that cover should really be fired.


message 8: by Jan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jan I probably wouldn't have picked this book up because of the cover, but your review definitely makes me want to read it. Thanks!


message 9: by Nicholas (new)

Nicholas you slut


message 10: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez ^Seriously?


karen Nicholas wrote: "you slut"

Paquita Maria wrote: "^Seriously?"

yeah,that's either wishful thinking or too many tabs open and chatting at the wrong one.


karen Jan wrote: "I probably wouldn't have picked this book up because of the cover, but your review definitely makes me want to read it. Thanks!"

it's funny - i just read The Clothing of Books, which is allll about book covers, and apparently lahiri hates many of her own covers. for a debut author i understand not getting a say in the matter (i have no idea if that is the case here), but you would think lahiri would have earned some input by now, right?


karen Jan wrote: "I probably wouldn't have picked this book up because of the cover, but your review definitely makes me want to read it. Thanks!"

i'm glad! it's not a horrible cover, it's just not memorable, and it looks a bit YA, which is def. not the tone of the book.


message 14: by Deanna (new)

Deanna I thought this sounded good when I came across it yesterday but after your review I really REALLY want it!!
Awesome review!!


Arah-Lynda karen wrote: "you are welcome! jones away! i will jones for that hot dog..."

No longer jonesing, thanks to you. I loved it.


karen YAYYYY!


Nadine Jones That cover looks really great as a quarter-inch high thumbnail image on my phone. It was the title that turned me off, and only this review (complete w comparison to Tana French) that got me interested. Then I saw all the comments about the cover, so I zoomed in, and holy crap that is awful!! That cover screams "independently published with nothing but a small clip art budget and no editors, possibly typed by monkeys." WTH were the publishers thinking?? I did a Google image search and there is another cover, far superior, possibly for U.K. publication? They need to scrap this junk and get that U.K. cover.


Ntandem_wTina Another fantastic review! You said it exceeded your expectations for a debut (my side fancy) but you had me at Tana French! What don't I like about French?! Then you reference a meant-to-add-on-to-read list, Abbot, and I was in.
The thing about covers...I have picked ARCs on covers that always wound up on the NY Bestsellers list so much so that it has become a unique challenge in playing "If I were the publisher..."


message 19: by TL (new)

TL excellent, review, adding it to the list:)


message 20: by Ankush (new)

Ankush This sounds right up my alley, now if only I could force that publication date to come out sooner.


message 21: by R.K. (new) - added it

R.K. Syrus Faith in publishing process #Shattered: "blurbs are often the result of author friendships or other writers in the publisher's stable doing a favor for the team"


message 22: by ariel (new)

ariel Wow I've really missed your reviews. This sounds great.


Nadine Jones When do you interview her?? I can't get this book out of my head, I really look forward to reading more from her.


karen it is FINALLY going to run on monday! i will add the link! we did the interview thing so long ago, i'm excited it is finally going to actually be seen!


message 25: by Dan (new) - rated it 5 stars

Dan Schwent That interview is pretty great.


message 26: by Doc. (new)

Doc. I can now open all the doors! Great questions, too.


karen awww, thanks! her book is awesome, and she's coming to town to sign next week so we get to meet with real faces!


message 28: by Ellen Gail (new) - added it

Ellen Gail Great review! I'm even more excited to read this one now. Also Zombeavers is a masterpiece and THANK you for loving it.


message 29: by Miranda (new) - added it

Miranda She’s like Conway!?! I am in! Thanks for the review and the interview. Good work!


message 30: by Miriam (new)

Miriam I liked this previously but am commenting to point out the review! Yay!


message 31: by Richard (new) - added it

Richard Derus ...also, i simply must applaud her taste in food, because a hot dog topped with sriracha cream cheese and Fritos and a side of Tater Tots sounds like something i need to be eating right now and also every night forever.

Yuh-huh. +1


Lorraine D Ellingson c.f.


message 33: by Mike (new) - added it

Mike This is a fantastic review, Karen!!

Already had this on Mount TBR but you would have hooked me entirely with this observation:

"this is literary crime fiction; it's not the kind of book that ends with a cliffhanger or a huge action sequence at every chapter's end, nor is there any skimping on character development. it's a more mature, steadily-paced novel that borrows elements from the noir sensibility without aping its stiff and stylized tone. this is noir with curves.*

These are the kind of books I really like poking into these days. Thanks again!


karen you are just full of compliments today! i appreciate it so much!


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