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by Kristen Lepionka
Minotaur, May 2018
294 pages
ISBN: 1250120535

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Kristen Lepionka burst out of the gate in 2017 with THE LAST PLACE YOU LOOK, the start of a PI series that combined homage to the genre's traditions with a fresh, complicated protagonist. The second in the Roxane Weary series continues to pay its debt to the genre with a plot that's less showy than her first but as intricately plotted as something Ross Macdonald might have come up with; in fact, a couple of minor characters could move right into one of his novels and feel at home. Best of all, Roxane continues to be a character you want to spend time with prickly, vulnerable, and intelligent, though not always smart about her own well-being.

It starts out as a simple job. Arthur Ungless suspects his fiancee Marin is seeing someone else. That wouldn't be entirely surprising. She's relatively young and strikingly attractive compared to the aging print shop owner. Roxane follows her for a few days, seeing nothing suspicious. Not until her client's check bounces - and the police want to talk to her. Someone has murdered Marin. With Arthur Ungless's gun. The one he swears he lost years ago.

The police still think it's simple. The couple were seen arguing in a restaurant shortly before the murder. Arthur had just confronted Marin with the reason his check bounced she'd drained his bank account. But there's something about sad-sack Arthur and the elusive woman he loved that makes Roxane agree to look into it. Marin, she soon learns, had a lot of secrets, though not enough to explain a series of events that include one of the print shop employees vanishing abruptly, the murder of another employee's sister, and the vaguely menacing biblical ravings of a schizophrenic aunt of one of Marin's ex-husbands. Roxane uncovers plenty of clues as she untangles the branches of several family trees, just no idea how they fit together.

She also has a personal life that's nearly as complicated, including a fraught relationship with her difficult father, killed in the line of duty. It's a tribute to Lepionka's skill as a writer that she can handle such a large cast of characters, a plot with many moving parts, and a protagonist with baggage in what, in this era of door-stoppers, is a compact mystery. Perhaps that's another homage to the past. Perhaps its simply good writing.

Barbara Fister is an academic librarian, columnist, and author of the Anni Koskinen mystery series.

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, May 2018

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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