It’s increasingly common for books to reflect popular culture – true crime podcasts and the like. I’ve now read a few novels that have pursued a story either via the podcast or for the purposes of one. (As an aside, Sadie by Courtney Summers, which does exactly that was one of my favourite books for the first half of 2019.)
This is a little different in that it’s mostly about the investigation which may (or may not) result in a podcast. But I guess this book by AL Gaylin also takes the opportunity to consider 21st century journalism, news and our consumption of information. In some ways it’s a peripheral issue, but in others a reminder of how different today’s world is from that of 40yrs ago.
Never Look Back
by A.L. Gaylin
Published by Orion
on July 4th, 2019
Source: Hachette Australia
Genres: Psychological Thriller, Thriller / Suspense
ISBN: B07KRLG18D, 9781409179047
When website columnist Robin Diamond is contacted by true crime podcast producer Quentin Garrison, she assumes it's a business matter. It's not. Quentin's podcast, Closure, focuses on a series of murders in the 1970s, committed by teen couple April Cooper and Gabriel LeRoy. It seems that Quentin has reason to believe Robin's own mother may be intimately connected with the killings.
Robin thinks Quentin's claim is absurd. But is it? The more she researches the Cooper/LeRoy murders herself, the more disturbed she becomes by what she finds. Living just a few blocks from her, Robin's beloved parents are the one absolute she's always been able to rely upon, especially now amid rising doubts about her husband and frequent threats from internet trolls. Robin knows her mother better than anyone.
But then her parents are brutally attacked, and Robin realises she doesn't know the truth at all...
Interestingly the blurb gives equal weight or kudos to both Quentin and Robin. In reality however – for much of the novel – it felt like this was Quentin’s story. Robin becomes involved and kinda takes over and – if I’m honest – it was probably the thing I mainly disliked. It wasn’t jointly narrated, but rather it felt as if Robin hijacked something that Quentin had been working on and I didn’t quite understand what happened. For a while anyway.
There’s ultimately a reason and I didn’t like that either, but still…
Quentin’s podcast is the brainchild of his best friend and his husband. It centres around the murder of his aunt (when she was four years old), and his mother a teenager. Quentin’s grandmother suicided later and grandfather never recovered. His own mother became an addict, leaving Quentin with a messy childhood. He’s unsure at first but eventually agrees that a series ‘Closure’ about those impacted by the teenage killers could indeed do just that for the victims’ loved ones (albeit 40+ years later).
At the same time, Gaylin offers us a series of letters, written by 15yr old April Cooper. They start off as a school assignment – letters to her future daughter, a task allocated by April’s favourite teacher and – though her life is disrupted by the murder of her stepfather and then life on the run – she continues the letters. Of course WE are privy to the letters but we don’t know (at the time) whether anyone else will ever see them, as we quickly learn that April and her boyfriend Gabriel LeRoy both died in a fire not long after they completed their worst, seemingly pointless massacre.
Quentin’s investigation doesn’t really seem to be going anywhere until he’s contacted by someone who claims that April is still alive – 40+ years after she supposedly perished in a fire. Which is how he ends up contacting Robin, whose mother Renee was (or is) – very possibly – April.
I guess I prefer a more linear story but just as Quentin and Robin make contact, her parents are shot… which partially takes over the narrative, in addition to issues Robin is having with her husband. And of course, because of Quentin’s doggedness to ‘fix’ his own family’s past, he soon becomes a suspect in the shooting of Robin’s parents.
This plot is very intriguing, but also very frustrating. There are so many near misses where people SHOULD meet and have a conversation but it just doesn’t happen. And ultimately it became more frustrating than suspenseful. I did enjoy the journey (#sorrynotsorry) we see April take via her letters – the fact she’s initially so misunderstood but goes through something of a transition. And perhaps yet another?
Never Look Back by AL Gaylin was published in Australia by Hachette and available from 4 July 2019.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.