A young man seeking catharsis probes old wounds and unleashes fresh pain in "Never Look Back," an expertly crafted stand-alone from Edgar finalist Alison Gaylin.
Quentin Garrison is an accomplished true-crime podcaster, but it’s not until his troubled mother, Kate, fatally overdoses that he tackles the case that destroyed his family. In 1976, teenagers Gabriel LeRoy and April Cooper murdered 12 people in Southern California — Kate’s little sister included — before dying in a fire. Kate’s mother committed suicide, and her father withdrew, neglecting Kate, who in turn neglected Quentin. Quentin intends for "Closure" to examine the killings’ ripple effects, but after an interview with his estranged grandfather ends in a fight, he resolves to find a different angle. When a source alleges that April is alive and living in New York as Renee Bloom, Quentin is dubious, but efforts to debunk the claim only uncover more supporting evidence, so he flies east to investigate. Renee’s daughter, online film columnist Robin Diamond, is preoccupied with Twitter trolls and marital strife when Quentin calls to inquire about her mom’s connection to April Cooper. Robin initially dismisses Quentin but, upon reflection, realizes she knows nothing of Renee’s past. Before she can ask, a violent home invasion hospitalizes her parents and leaves Robin wondering whom she can trust. Artfully strewn red herrings and a kaleidoscopic narrative heighten tension while sowing seeds of distrust concerning the characters’ honesty and intentions. Letters from April to her future daughter written mid–crime spree punctuate chapters from Quentin's and Robin’s perspectives, humanizing her and Gabriel in contrast with sensationalized accounts from Hollywood and the media.
This is a mind-bending mystery, an insightful exploration of parent-child relationships and a cautionary tale about bitterness and blame.
(Gaylin will speak and sign copies of her book at 7 p.m. Monday at BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar Blvd. Information: bookpeople.com.)
A captivating immigration story
In Krista Beth Driver's debut biography, "Mani Pedi," a Vietnamese woman escapes her authoritarian country with her family to become an entrepreneurial success in the United States.
Many years ago, Hieu Vo knew that she couldn’t continue to live in Communist-controlled Vietnam — the government ruled its citizens with fear and relentless indoctrination, and she wanted a better life for her kids. Her husband, Tien, once an aspiring lawyer, was singled out by the government as suspicious and sent to work a menial job outside of Saigon as part of a plan to break his spirit. Hieu’s mother, Thi Ba, organized an escape for Hieu and her family by boat; Thi traded gold on the black market, which was an invaluable commodity after the national currency collapsed, and so she was plugged into the world of illicit exchange. But Hieu and her family were soon captured and sent to languish in prison, and author Driver captures her terrifying experience in unflinching prose: “she watched her children suffering in the environment. They became skinnier and skinnier, weaker and weaker. Khoa and Gialai grew so weak, they even lost their desire to be children.” After the family was finally released, Hieu immediately began planning a second escape attempt while waiting for her malnourished children’s strength to return. They finally made it by boat to Hong Kong, and then to America, where Hieu was known as “Charlie” and trained to become a manicurist. She eventually opened her own shop, ManTrap, which became a successful chain. Driver’s engrossing biography relates a remarkable series of accomplishments, conveying them in cinematically dramatic terms and highlighting Hieu’s indomitable spirit. Along the way, she deftly shares the history of the manicure industry, as well, showing how it became a support system for many Asian refugees and sometimes dealt with raids by government inspectors. Overall, Driver’s account is affecting and instructive throughout.
"Mani Pedi" is a captivating and inspiring immigration story.