The Stories You Tell by Kristen Lepionka — book review

39298457._SX318_.jpgThe Stories You Tell will quite likely by one of my biggest reading disappointments of 2019. This third instalment featuring PI Roxane Weary has made the characters established in book 1 and 2 sketches of their former selves. What is perhaps even worse is that much of The Stories You Tell is a blatant rip-off of (view spoiler).

In many ways The Stories You Tell negates the characters’ dynamics and developments that occurred in The Last Place You Look and What You Want To See. Roxane’s personality, which so strongly dictated the storylines of book 1 and 2, has receded into a mere parody of her former self. While previously she struck me as headstrong and resilient in spite of her troubles, in The Stories You Tell she was annoying, self-centred, and rude. Most of her interactions with the various individuals connected to disappearance of this Mackenzie seemed to follow the same formula: she poses stupid questions, makes poorly veiled accusations, and does not advance the case.
The ‘story’ as such is made up by scenes in which Roxane ‘interrogates’ various people…these dialogues were for the most part boring so much so that you could predict the way the would conclude (spoiler: nothing much would be revealed).
Then we have Roxane whining about her relationship to her deceased father, whining that her girlfriend doesn’t demonstrate her love for her (and yet for Roxane it is okay to keep her gf at a distance…double standards much?), whining some more about this and that. The suspects and persons of interest were so forgettable that I kept confusing them for one another.
Roxane joined the trend of constantly dismissing the men she encounters as ‘ugh those straight men’, ‘ugh those white men’. Let’s keep in mind that I am 1) a woman 2) not straight, and yet, this constant and obvious ‘haha men suck’ banter was really cheap. If the story and the characterisations of these men could have conveyed that they were ‘bad’ good, but being told time and again ‘they suck’ isn’t reason enough why I should dislike them.
Roxane’s girlfriend is dismissed early on in the narrative and, rather predictably, she turns into (view spoiler)
The ‘twist’ was both laughable and unimaginative. There are a few lines that can be found in a lot of ‘domestic thriller’ novels:
(view spoiler)

Roxane is made to seem this iconic woman who takes no shit from anyone but is actually unable to act like an adult or do her job properly.
With great sadness I bid this series goodbye as I won’t be following Roxane’s journey into mediocrity.

My rating: ★★✰✰✰ 2 stars

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Sacred by Dennis Lehane

Kenzie and Gennaro are hired by an incredibly wealthy – and dying – Trevor Stone to find his missing daughter. Things soon start to get complicated. Kenzie’s own mentor was looking for Desiree Stone and is now also MIA. Kenzie and Gennaro will venture from a shady Grief Counselling organisation, that is possibly connected to a religious cult, to sunny Florida. Money and the power that comes with it play a big role in this novel, and as the protagonists soon find out, money is a good motive.
While Lehane does incorporate more affecting moments into his storyline grief is a big theme of the novel – I found that this instalment was much more lighthearted that the previous ones. Horrible people do horrible things in this story but there was a ‘flashy-ness’ a dramatic aspect to their behaviour that undermined the seriousness of their actions. Still, while there were some high-end film-like scenarios, Lehane’s characters convey incredible realism: their dialogues and reactions ring true to life. I also deeply appreciated that we are shown that what happened in the previous novels has affected Kenzie and Gennaro. Their partnership is a vital aspect of this serious and I was happy to see how solid their relationship is,
Deeply entertaining and fast paced, Lehane packs another suspenseful and highly-strung story.

My rating: 3.75 stars

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Darkness, Take My Hand by Dennis Lehane

“Guns, guns, guns. Three hundred and sixty degrees of pure violence.”

The thing about Lehane is that he can write bloody good thrillers. His gritty stories –reminiscent of hard-boiled crime novels– never fail to entertain. Moreover, he always, always, manages to surprise – if not shock– you.
Kenzie and Gennaro’s investigation is full of well-paced twists and turns that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Like the other Kenzie & Gennaro novels, Darkness, Take My Hand has a great sense of place. The urban setting is vividly rendered through characters and the sharp descriptions of the narrator. Lehane’s observations are always nuanced, and while Kenzie might gives us the majority of the ‘picture’, all of the characters contribute to it. Lehane doesn’t elevate Kenzie’s opinions and intentions, in fact, time and again, he challenges the actions of his protagonist.
The narrator is another of this series’ strengths. Kenzie’s wise-ass commentary is always engaging. However, in comparison to A Drink Before the War I think there is more serious, or more complex, tone to him, one that brings his character fully to life. This added depth is also found in all of the other characters. Lehane’s has an ear for dialogue and the little things that characterise different people; it might be the way they talk and or move, as much as their own backstories.
Kenzie’s investigation never takes a predictable turn. From the very start we are given numerous factors that lead us away from what seems to be Kenzie’s main investigation, leaving us desperately in need of answers. Lehane shows interest in the psychology of criminals (fans of Mindhunter…read this): he does not give us easy answers, he is always fighting against the ‘good/bad’ morality.
Gripping and suspenseful, this novel is brimming with dangerous characters and an intricate mystery. It is a fast-paced thriller full of sharp-witted dialogues and action set against a mobile backdrop that thrums with life.

My rating: 4.5 stars

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A Drink Before the War by Dennis Lehane

“Come on, kids.”
I stood. “Where?”
“There’s a bar around the corner. Lemme buy you drink before the war.”

Despite having read two of the later instalments of Kenzie & Gennaro, I was still able to enjoy this first investigation of theirs. They are perhaps less weathered than their future selves but their line of enquiry is equally engrossing. Lehane’s distinctive wit characterise a lot of the narration, and Kenzie’s wisecracks pepper his story. The tone of his later novels are somewhat less jokey: experience might have diminished Kenzie’s – very entertaining – wise-ass commentary.

No one spoke for a few moments. I think we were all too impressed by the realization that we knew someone who used “conundrum” in casual conversation.

The story is rooted in Boston: Lehane’s vivid rendition of the city pulses with life. He swiftly illustrates neighborhoods through amusing and accurate observations. Here is a nugget of his sharp-witted descriptions:

If Donald Trump puked, Copley Place is probably what would hit the toilet.

Yes, the building has marbles fountains and golden statues.
Lehane also takes time for more serious and reflective contemplations. A lot of his commentary addresses the way in which certain neighbourhoods appear to one another and how these preconceptions inflamate hate.
Part of the focus of this novel is the strife between the opposing gangs, however, I think Lehane incorporates a lot more than that through his plotlines. There are the ‘powerful and untouchable’ politicians, the police, the ones who have to live in a ‘war-torn’ terrain. Lehane emphasizes how they all similarly try to drive a wedge between them and ‘the others’. Kenzie is not a flawless rendered judgment-free character. He too shows – to his own remorse – prejudiced behaviour.
Kenzie is one of the novel’s strengths. He is so incredibly engaging that it is hard for the readers to want to leave him.

“I go on the presumption that everyone’s full of shit until proven otherwise, and this usually serves me in good stead.”

The story propels us through Kenzie’s investigation which include more than a few ‘rough’ encounters. While the action drives forwards the plot, we also get a lot of interesting and unhurried scenes which helps to give us a fuller picture of the characters involved.
Characters are another of Lehane’s fortes. Besides the endearing protagonist, we have a series of believable and complex characters vividly depicted through Lehane’s skillful style.
For example, through a few remarks, he aptly evokes Bubba’s ‘essence’:

“If Bubba could have been born in another time, like say the Bronze Age, he would have been all set.”

While the mystery and the plot are not as complex and intricate as the following instalments, this first novel introduces us to Kenzie, Gennaro and Bubba, and on the whole, it allows us for a more depth reading of their characters.

“The world according to Bubba is simple – if it aggravates you, stop it. By whatever means necessary.”

My rating: 4.5 stars

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The Last Place You Look by Kristen Lepionka

This mystery is character-driven and engaging from the very start. Roxane’s grit charmed me from the get go. She is a bit of a mess, grieving the recent loss of her father – a cop – and given that their relationship wasn’t the easiest, she isn’t really coping well. When she is contacted by Brad’s sister she finds herself drawn to the girl’s small town, and Roxane soon begins to wonder wherever the case is bigger than she’d imagined. We follow both Roxane’s investigations and her private life. Her character is the true force of the story, her imperfect methods and headstrong personality make the novel truly captivating. There is a focus on her actions that makes the story feel fast-paced rather than rushed. The dialogues, various scenarios and characters all feel incredibly believable and realistic. I hope we will have more of Roxane!

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

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Vigil by Angela Slatter

While Vigil doesn’t necessarily bring anything ‘new‘ to the paranormal/mystery genre, it has its own quirky take on the popular genre.
Weyrds are living in Brisbane. Their unusual appearances and abilities hidden behind glamours or merely thought of as eccentricities by the Normals.
Verity Fassbinder, a half and half, is a private investigator apt in solving Weyrd-related accidents. Her character is perhaps one of the book’s biggest strengths: she is incredibly straight-forward and sarcastic. Her witty remarks and perfectly timed puns made for very entertaining scenes. I found her to be an extremely charismatic narrator. Verity is from the very start the ‘engaging’ force that drives the story. Her investigations were engrossing: each lead she followed was captivating. Also thanks to the many other interesting characters such as Rhonda McIntyre, Ziggi, the Norns’ sisters and Lizzie, my attention never wavered. They made the story all the more compelling.
The humour somewhat reminded me of a more ‘adult’ Rick Riordan. And yes, Vigil might not be an incredibly moving or deep story, but I believe it is because it isn’t meant to be. Some aspects of it were stronger than others, still, it is a promising start for a highly amusing and absorbing series. Vigil is a fun and gritty mystery peppered by myths and magic.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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