By Kristen Lepionka. $25.99; Minotaur; 336 pages
Kristen Lepionka writes a trying-to-be hard-boiled yet oh-so-relatable bisexual PI in the Roxane Weary mysteries, of which What You Want To See is the second. Roxane's tropes are going with her gut and sexually/romantically jockeying between the very solid, nice and unavailable cop Tom Heitker and the wild artist and slightly bitchy tease Catherine Walsh. Ohand there's a bachelorette apartment complete with an empty refrigerator and quickly emptying bottles of Crown Royal.
Mere days after he contracts Roxane to follow his possibly deceitful fiance, Arthur Ungless is accused of murdering her. The detective's instinct Roxane inherited from her late police detective father says despite the suspicious circumstancesthey were seen arguing at dinnerArthur didn't kill her. But the fiance, Marin, is a enigmatic woman with little in the way of a paper trail. And the cops just want Roxane to stop prying. And soon, a car will get wrecked and a lot of people will get shot. So it's got all the elements of a thriller in place, and Lepionka's voice is gritty and nimble and funny where it needs to be. Whether it's the details of the peanut butter, carrot and sriracha sandwich on bread that might be about to go stale, or the portrait of gentifying Columbus, Ohio, that forms the backdrop to crime and intrigue, it's a delightfully recognizable world-Roxane Weary inhabits.
While What You Want to See will definitely stand on its own, it's even better when paired with its progenitor, The Last Place You Look, in which we get to meet the cast of characters that will bolster Roxane or lift her out of the scrapes an often-broke, headstrong lady private detective might find herself in. In that book, we meet Shelby, a teenager whose queer identity is starting to blossom, and the scene in which Roxane realizes Shelby's yearning for her missing best friend is one of the more touching realizations of identity ever writtenparticularly in a book of this genre. In What You Want to See, Shelby's trying to move out from under her overprotective's father's eye and is prepared to do it: she has the life management skills of a working 35-year-old mother of three. Another strong point in Lepionka's narratives is the interplay of family dynamics, whether between Shelby and her father, or in revealing the gaping hole Roxane's father left in their own family when he died, to the point where Roxane's mother hasn't opened his study in nearly a year, and how Roxane's very different siblings handle her grief.
Overall, even if the plot ratchets exponentially at the last minute, the quality of creation far exceeds the average dime-store crime novel. Throw in the bisexual anglewhich is done perhaps a smidge predictably but definitely not artificiallyand you've got one hell of an appealing beach read. The only slight flaw is that What You Want To See, by dint of its being second in the list, cannot equal the magic The Last Place You Look casts, as it introduces all of its appealing, hilarious, entirely real people and their relationships. But it's definitely got enough to keep you reading and wanting to know what will happen in a third book. Third book, please?