Amazon discontinued the ability to create images using their SiteStripe feature and in their infinite wisdom broke all previously created images on 12/31/23. Many blogs used this feature, including this one. Expect my archives to be a hot mess of broken book cover images until I can slowly comb through 20 years of archives to make corrections.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Review: Never Look Back

Y'all, this ARC has been in my TBR pile since 2019 and I could just kick myself in the teeth for not reading it sooner.  Never Look Back is a riveting read that didn't have me coming up for air. I basically lost an entire Saturday reading it and hashtag no regrets. I'm ready to follow Alison Gaylin off a cliff.

For nearly two weeks in 1976, two teenagers, Gabriel LeRoy and April Cooper went on a killing spree, killing a dozen people before dying in a fire at a cult's compound in the middle of the southern California desert. Forty years later, journalist Quentin Garrison is working on a podcast about the murders tentatively titled "Closure." His husband, and even his producer Summer, think it's a great idea. Quentin has a connection to the murders. His aunt, just a young girl at the time, was gunned down by LeRoy and Cooper at a local gas station. Her death set off a chain of events that included his mother's spiraling drug addiction and an estrangement from his grandfather. Now Quentin has uncovered a lead. A man who saw an interview about movies online and he swears on his life that one of the women in that interview is none other than April Cooper.

Robin Diamond is a film columnist living in New York City and her life is starting to unravel. Her husband is hiding something from her, and she's convinced he's having an affair.  On top of that her latest column has generated a predictable amount of hate from Internet trolls.  The one solid in her life, the one thing she can count on, are her parents. Her mother, the perfect homemaker. Her father, a retired criminal psychologist who now has a small, private practice. Her parents are solid. Her parents have the perfect marriage. Her parents love her.  And then she gets a call from Quentin Garrison who tells her he thinks her Mom is the notorious, not dead after all, serial killer April Cooper. 

The story is told from multiple points of view (primarily Quentin and Robin) and different timelines (1976 and present day).  The 1976 timeline is told from April's perspective, in the form of a school assignment she received from her favorite teacher right before Gabriel LeRoy murdered her stepfather and kidnapped her.  That assignment is to write a letter to her future child, which April does. Those letters become her diary, as she details her life on the run with Gabriel and the bodies left in their wake.

This book is a ride, and Gaylin keeps the reader guessing by taking forks in the road.  I didn't see the forks coming and once on that stretch of road, I had no idea where the driver was taking me. Not all of them are shocking twists, but they're twists all the same, the story winding and curving, keeping me on my toes and unable to look away.

The compelling theme behind the story is that everybody has secrets - even your parents. What do any of us truly know about our parents? They had lives before they had kids. They had tragedies, triumphs, made good and bad choices.  That's what drives this narrative. What does Robin truly know about her mother? For that matter, what does her father know and how much? At first Quentin seems completely off the rails, but then there's the little things - the cracks that start appearing. The coincidences that are just too amazing to be actual coincidences. As Robin starts her journey towards the truth, the 1976 storyline careens to it's fiery epic conclusion at the cult's desert compound.

I'll also say that I loved the settings of this story, which takes place between southern California and the suburban enclaves outside of New York City.  Los Angeles tends to get a fair amount of attention as a setting for suspense stories, but this story tickled me for featuring such Los Angeles County cities as Duarte, Claremont, and even a brief mention of Pico Rivera.

Truly, it's an excellent read that I could not get enough of. As soon as I get through some more long neglected suspense ARCs on my Kindle, I need to drop my life and go on an Alison Gaylin reading tear.

Final Grade = A


azteclady said...

wow, Miz Wendy, you sound positively giddy! I'm so happy for you.

Jazzlet said...

Wonderful you have found such a compelling author, enjoy your dive into her back list.

Wendy said...

It was so good! This was my fourth read by Gaylin, but I can't believe I didn't glom through her backlist sooner. I haven't found a dud yet. Once I'm past by backlog of suspense ARCs I need to take a deeper dive with her.

Amy said...

Yeah. Just added to my growing holds list at the library.

Wendy said...

Amy: Oh, you'll love this! And when you're done you can move on to What Remains of Me and The Collective.