Alison Gaylin is one of the most consistent writers in the crime fiction genre. Never one to repeat herself, readers can always count on her novels to be solidly structured and peopled with realistic and fascinating characters. Her latest release, Never Look Back, is not only her best novel yet, but also one of the best novels of the year-to-date, period.
Never Look Back is not an easy book to summarize, largely because Alison Gaylin makes writing complex books look so effortless. In this novel, several storylines of equal importance weave and mingle – at times influencing each other and at times in direct contradiction, but always propelling the reader toward the truth. One of Alison Gaylin’s strongest stock-in-trade assets is that she never underestimates the intelligence of her audience; readers are often left to navigate connections and developments on their own without having to have their importance spotlighted or telegraphed as though the consumer is incapable of orienting their significance within the overall narrative.
Never Look Back begins when Quentin Garrison decides to focus his next true crime podcast on the crime spree committed by Gabriel LeRoy and April Cooper in the late seventies. Quentin titles his podcast Closure for some very personal reasons, but he has no idea just how intimately this journalistic endeavor is going to affect him. Including both the true crime and podcast elements is just one example of how Gaylin uses her extensive knowledge of pop culture trends to stimulate and direct her writing path.
Quentin’s investigation leads him to the doorstep of Robin Diamond. He makes some audacious claims about Robin’s mother, sending shock waves through this family that culminates in a tragic turn of events. Robin, who already had doubts about her husband and now feels skepticism towards her parents, turns to one of her mother’s oldest friends for answers. As they commiserate, secrets from the past begin to surface, changing lives in the process.
Meanwhile, historical letters from April Cooper interrupt the narrative of these two interconnected stories. Written as a school project and addressed to her future (dream) daughter, fifteen-year-old April recounts her life up to and through the crime spree that rocked California’s Inland Empire, ending many lives, including her own.
Never Look Back takes many turns on its journey to the truth, but this is not a novel interested in following the usual path. Readers will literally gasp as some of the revelations are exposed, delighting in how Alison Gaylin subverts expectations to mine even deeper into the emotional ramifications of past events. This is a suspense novel where the focus is firmly placed on character development. Everything feels so real that when readers set the book aside, it would not be a stretch to say they might find themselves expecting to hear updates on the national television and radio news broadcasts.
Alison Gaylin received the Best Paperback Original Edgar Award last year for If I Die Tonight. Given that Never Look Back is even better, she might want to keep a space clear on the bookshelf for a companion award. No matter what happens, it is readers who are the real winners.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.