The Last Place You Look by Kristen Lepionka

The Blurb On The Back:

Sarah Cook, a beautiful blonde teenager disappeared fifteen years ago, the same night her parents were brutally murdered in their suburban Ohio home. Her boyfriend Brad Stockton – black and from the wrong side of the tracks – was convicted of the murders and sits on death row, though he always maintained his innocence. With his execution only weeks away, his devoted sister, insisting she has spotted Sarah at a local gas station, hires PI Roxane Weary to look again at the case.

Reeling from the recent death of her cop father, Roxane finds herself drawn to the story of Sarah’s vanishing act, especially when she thinks she’s linked Sarah’s disappearance to one of her father’s unsolved murder cases involving another teen girl. Despite her self-destructive tendencies, Roxane starts to hope that maybe she can save Brad’s life and her own. 

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Roxane Weary is an alcoholic private investigator in Ohio, USA whose life has gone into a spiral since her cop father was murdered on the job 9 months earlier. Roxane’s latest job has come courtesy of her brother Matt. Danielle Stockton’s brother Brad has been on death row for the last 15 years, accused of brutally killing the parents of his girlfriend, the then 17-year-old Sarah Cook (who disappeared the same night and whose body has never been found). Brad’s execution is scheduled for 20th January but Danielle insists that she and Brad’s friend, Kenny Brayfield saw Sarah alive and well at a petrol station on 2nd November.

Roxane fears that the case will go nowhere – that Danielle’s imagining what she wants to believe to be true – but her bank account needs the money and as she starts to go back through the original investigation in the nice Ohio suburb of Belmont, she finds evidence of mistakes by the original team and a potential link to another missing girl case that had been worked by her father 8 years earlier. But the people of Belmont don’t want Weary to reopen the case and someone will do whatever it takes to stop her from finding out the truth …

Kristen Lepionka’s crime novel (the first in a series) has a PI heroine who hits a lot of the detective clichés (an alcoholic whose private life is a mess) but puts enough of a spin on them to keep me interested (notably her bisexuality and the love triangle with femme fatale Catherine and Tom, her dad’s old partner) while the mystery unfolds at a decent pace and had enough twists and turns to hold my interest, such that I’d check out the sequel.

I have to say that my heart did sink when I started the book because Weary hits so many of the standard PI clichés and I really wasn’t in the mood to read about another alcoholic detective with family problems, a complicated love life and major daddy issues. However Lepionka gives Weary a wry and yet hard-boiled narrative voice that recognises her potential issues even if she’s reluctant to voice them and where she’s self-aware enough to acknowledge her own B-S. Lepionka gives Weary the dogged determination and take-no-prisoners attitude that’s common to the genre but adds a bisexual twist that upends a lot of the conventions. I particularly enjoyed the depiction of Weary’s bisexuality and her obsession with former classmate Catherine, a deeply selfish woman who recognises and uses Weary’s devotion to her as a way of boosting her own self-esteem while simultaneously toying with Weary’s affection as a form of entertainment. This is counterbalanced by Weary’s simultaneous friends-with-benefits arrangement with her dad’s former partner, Tom, and the demands that Weary places on him even as she denies him a chance to become emotionally more involved.

I also enjoyed Weary’s family life with her two brothers Matt (who disapproves of Roxane) and Andrew (who she’s closer to) and her mother who still hasn’t come to terms with her husband’s death (even though Weary’s dad is shown as something of a negative force in the family). The squabbles and back-and-forth feel particularly real and Lepionka does well at showing a family unit that cares about each other in their own way but is particularly poor at communicating it.

The mystery element itself unfolds at a good pace and I particularly liked the depiction of the close-knit community of Belmont, whose sheriff is not keen on Weary coming over to reopen old wounds. I also enjoyed how Lepionka keeps the surprises and twists coming, and increases the sense of peril for Weary such that while the ending was a little overblown, I still believed in it enough to care about the outcome.

Ultimately I thought that clichés aside, there was enough here for me to be interested in finding out what happens to Weary next and as such I will definitely be checking out the sequel.

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