Kristen Lepionka 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 lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her partner and two cats.
That’s what the official bio of the winner of the Anthony Award for best first novel says. How could I resist?
I couldn’t, of course. The aforementioned first novel, as you can see in the image, is The Last Place You Look. I recommend it, but with a couple of reservations. The main reservation is not the one that a certain reader complained about: the protagonist is a bisexual alcoholic. If either part of that bothers you, then don’t read this novel, as sex and alcohol appear throughout the story. Other than the bisexuality it’s a pretty straightforward noir thriller, fast-paced and engaging. It’s effective as a mystery, fair to the reader, with a perp who doesn’t become obvious until 90% through.
Characters and conversations are convincing. Settings are reasonably clear, although I repeatedly had to remind myself that the locale was in Ohio. (What’s so distinctive about Ohio? Yes, that’s the problem. If the portrait of Columbus OH isn’t especially vivid, maybe it’s because there’s no such thing as an especially vivid portrayal of Columbus.) The plot is engaging and coherent. The pace is suitably quick.
OK, so what’s my second reservation, you want to ask. It’s just that The Last Place You Look is so full of clichés — not just in diction but also in plot. For instance, there’s the gothic commonplace of the innocent young woman who enters a spooky dark house all alone, and her phone is shattered by a mishap so… Well, you can write the rest. Yes, of course having a phone requires a modern adaptation of the gothic story, but the shattering neatly (too neatly?) solves the problem that Sue Grafton posed about how an author can get the heroine into a situation where she can’t call for help. In Grafton’s case, she set all her stories in the ’80s; problem solved. Anyway, this is one of those cases where the reader wants to shout ”Look behind you! How can you be so dumb?” There are also repeated encounters with the police, encounters that soon begin to be implausible and which the protagonist does too little about.
Bottom line: generally well done, except for my two reservations. This first novel is certainly a good start, and I’m willing to give the sequel a chance.