The Stories You Tell

Written by Kristen Lepionka — This is the third outing for Ohio-based private investigator Roxane Weary. Columbus is in the grip of winter when Roxane gets a call from her brother, Andrew. A woman he once had an ill-fated fling with, Addison, turned up at his apartment, in the middle of the night. She was drunk and distressed and now she has disappeared. 

Andrew is not keen on police attention – apart from anything else, he sells weed. He is also worried he might be a suspect and wants Roxane’s help to track down Addison.

Roxane finds out what she can about Addison and sets out to look for her, visiting her home and speaking to her friends. She learns that Addison worked as a DJ at a club near where her brother lives, and that the club has suddenly closed. 

As she speaks to Roxane’s real-world connections, she also searches for her online and looks for clues to her disappearance in her social media history. There seems to be a disconnect between the person her friends and family describe and the persona that Roxane presents on the internet. Roxane wonders if this might be the key. 

When events take a darker turn, Andrew is taken into custody. Meanwhile, Roxane’s relationship with her girlfriend, Catherine, is on shaky ground and Catherine is acting oddly ahead of flying to Rhode Island without her. 

How you feel about this book depends on how you feel about Roxane and her first-person narration. She has a keen eye for cultural references and observations on the millennial experience. Her wide network of family and friends create a tapestry of relationships in all their forms and she is always trying to find her way, not quite fitting. 

Roxane’s father was a police officer and she has numerous police contacts, in particular Tom. She and Tom also have a personal history, although he is now in a new relationship. Throughout the book, she has contact with Tom and other officers, both personal and professional. This both moves the investigation and highlights issues in her unresolved relationship with her father.

There is some really nice observation and subtly drawn characterisation. When Roxane is at Catherine’s, she can’t sleep, even though every comfort is at her disposal. It’s too quiet and she misses the noises of her city centre apartment. This highlights the differences between them. The author picks up on other couple dynamics throughout the novel, such as Tom and his controlling new partner, and the polite power struggles of Addison’s suburban married friend and her husband. 

The city of Columbus also plays a key part. In this book, the cold is a constant, if quiet, presence. There is an underlying theme of what it means to be home, and to belong, whether that’s in a physical space, a community, a family or a relationship.

The plot is very much subservient to the characterisation and it feels like the author wants to give all of her series characters their moment, whether the story requires it or not. So the nightclub where Addison works turns out to be owned by a man who appeared in a previous novel, and her neighbour’s culinary skills are enlisted to curry favour with a reluctant witness. 

Some of the abrupt shifts in the dynamic between Roxane and Catherine could have been better seeded, though they may make sense to readers of the previous books. 

Roxane is also working on a second investigation regarding counterfeit goods which has only tangential relevance to the story and is given more prominence than it merits. The main investigation doesn’t take on a sense of urgency until quite late in the novel.

Fans of the series will enjoy catching up with Roxane again, but if you’re new to the series, you might want to start with the earlier books.

Like female private investigators? Take a look at books featuring VI Warshawski and Kinsey Millhone

Faber & Faber
Print/Kindle/iBook
£4.07

CFL Rating: 3 Stars

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