by Doward Wilson
This week we have a review of a debut thriller by new author Kristen Lepionka, and an interesting interview with Kristen. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of The Last Place You Look. We also have a link to order it from Amazon, and from an indie bookstore where a portion goes to help support KRL.
The Last Place You Look: A Roxane Weary series by Kristen Lepionka
Review by Doward Wilson
Meet PI Roxane Weary. She is dealing with her cop father’s recent death on the job by trying to drink herself into oblivion every day. As her bank account runs low, her brother sends her his friend who is trying to save her brother from execution. Fifteen years ago Brad Stockton’s beautiful blonde girlfriend, Sarah Cook, disappeared, and her parents were brutally murdered. No trace of her has been found since that night until Brad’s sister tells Roxane that she saw her at a neighborhood gas station and begs Roxane to try and find her and get her brother acquitted.
As Roxane delves into this cold case, she finds no one who can confirm the sighting. With nothing to go on, Roxane still continues to investigate. When the cops in Sarah’s neighborhood start harassing her every attempt to find witnesses and information, she realizes that she is on to something.
Conversations with Brad and others in the investigation take her to a wooded area in the neighborhood where the body of another missing girl was found buried. As Roxane walks the rough terrain and creek, she discovers that the entire area is being cleared for an apartment complex. The main investor is the wealthy father of a young man who has set off Roxane’s radar. When a local cop shows up and tells her to leave because she is trespassing, she sees the corner of something blue. Persuading the cop to help her clear the rock covering the object, they discover the remains of another missing young woman. This body is wrapped in a blue plastic tarp, just like the other body that had been found buried close by.
As the police harassment increases, Roxane makes friends with the husband and teenage daughter of buried woman. With background from the husband, she begins to piece together a deadly pattern. Trying to get to the young man from the wealthy family puts her in jail overnight. Later when she does connect with him, she learns vital new information. As Roxane spirals deeper into the investigation she starts to confront her history with her father and re-examine her past and current relationships—one with a man and one with a woman.
This is a taut and well written thriller that will pull you in and not let you go until the final page is turned. It has a very dark, intense, and moody atmosphere that will keep you riveted as you pray that Roxane finds the answer to the fifteen-year-old cold case. The characters were extremely well drawn and made you care about them. The plot was a twisted maze of clues and suspects that made you observe and think until it finally gives us a totally surprising conclusion! This debut thriller gives us a new author to add to our reading pile! I am looking forward to seeing what her next effort brings us?
Interview of Kristen Lepionka:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Kristen: I feel like I’ve been writing since I knew that writing was a thing people could do. I was always scribbling in a notebook growing up. Then, during college, and a few years after, I thought of myself as a writer and spent much of my time thinking about writing, but not actually writing anything. But, about eight years ago I got serious and actually started finishing things.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your book/series? Please tell us a little about the setting and main character for your most recent book.
Kristen: The book is set in Columbus, Ohio, which is where I live. We’re the second biggest city in the Midwest, but people often confuse us with other places. ESPN did it this summer during the NBA finals! They showed a picture of Cleveland that was, actually, Columbus. Columbus is a real city, complete with big city problems and people and conflicts. It’s a very natural setting for the genre, though few books are set here. So, since I’d always wanted to read a mystery set in Columbus but hadn’t gotten to, I decided to write one. Similarly, in creating my main character, Roxane Weary, I tried to write the kind of woman I’ve always wanted to read about. She’s both tough and vulnerable; female characters in the genre are often relegated to being one or the other. She’s a mess, and not in a cute-messy way—women in crime fiction are often not permitted to [be] real, reckless people. So I really just wanted to write the book that I’d always been looking for.
KRL: I love that you chose to have a bisexual main character. Why did you choose to do that? Have you gotten any flack from it?
Kristen: I identify as bi, and I really wanted to create a bi character because there aren’t many at all in crime fiction. I look at the world of Young Adult fiction, and authors there have done so much to represent characters of different sexual orientations, gender identities, etc. And by comparison, adult genres are much further behind, though hopefully we’ll catch up someday.
KRL: I think that’s great! Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Kristen: I think it’s a bit of both. I want to tell a good story, but I also want to reveal some truths of human nature, all sneakily wrapped up inside a page-turner. Readers should be able to enjoy a mystery as a fun read, but if they want to go deeper, I want there to be something deeper for them to explore.
KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
Kristen: I used to think that outlines stifled creativity, which is silly. Now I’ll do a loose outline, with enough detail to ensure the story makes sense, and that I don’t write 40 pages going off in the entirely wrong direction (which has happened more times than I’d like to admit), but not so much that it feels rigid.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published?
Kristen: I spent about three years trying to find a literary agent with previous manuscripts before I wrote The Last Place You Look. I was lucky enough to participate in an online writing contest called Pitch Wars (think The Voice but for writers, and not on television), and had the opportunity to work with a mentor for a few months to improve the book. After that, things happened very quickly for me. My agent offered to represent me within a few days of the end of the contest, and within two months after that, she’d sold the book.
KRL: Most interesting book signing story, in a bookstore or other venue?
Kristen: My publisher in the UK market, Faber & Faber, brought me over for a huge crime fiction festival in Harrogate, England, this past July. I was on a discussion panel with three other debut authors and the amazing Val McDermid—and after the panel, we all sat under a tent at a row of tables and people stood in line to have their books signed. It all felt very fancy.
KRL: Writing heroes?
Kristen: Richard Price! He writes the most brilliant characterization. Early in his novel Clockers, he has this scene where one of the protagonists opens up his freezer to take a “Breyer’s Pledge”: swigging vodka for as long as it takes him to read the quality assurance “pledge” on the side of an ice cream carton in the freezer. It’s such a realistic, vivid character detail. I’d love to write characters that stick in the mind like that.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Kristen: I always say that research is my favorite part of the writing process because it delays actually having to write. It’s a joke! But also not. Research is fun. I tend to get pulled in pretty deep, and before I realize it I’ve read every single search result on the first 25 pages of a Google query. So a lot of Googling is step one (and yes, like any self-respecting mystery writer, my search history is truly alarming). I’ve also gone on a couple police ride-alongs (I wrote about one here) and learned how to pick locks because I wanted to be able to write about this accurately (demo video here).
KRL: What do you read?
Kristen: I read tons of mysteries, but I also love literary fiction and creative nonfiction. Right now I’m reading She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper; Without Fail, by Lee Child; and Dealers, by Peter Madsen.
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
Kristen: My favorite show of all time is Mad Men. I am constantly in the process of slowly rewatching it (I’m on early season three at the moment). I also adored Six Feet Under, The Wire, Sons of Anarchy, Westworld, The Rockford Files, and, of course, Law & Order.
KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Kristen: I get asked this a lot, and I know this will sound like a platitude, but: don’t give up. Stick with it. Keep writing, keep submitting, don’t internalize rejections, keep writing, keep writing. Rejections suck for everybody, including writers who already have a book out (yes, we still get them!) but you have to figure out a way to keep producing new work and letting rejections go.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Kristen: Although there are zero cats in The Last Place You Look, I am way into cats. I have two—Spenser, who is named after the brilliant Robert B. Parker character, and Snapple, who is named after bottled iced tea.
KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook?
Kristen Lepionka is the author of The Last Place You Look (June 13, Minotaur). She grew up mostly in a public library and could often be found in the adult mystery section well before she was out of middle school. She is the founding editor of Betty Fedora, a feminist crime fiction magazine, and her writing has been featured at Shotgun Honey, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Grift, and Black Elephant. She lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her partner and two cats.
To enter to win a copy of The Last Place You Look, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “place,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen September 30, 2017. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.
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