I’ve noticed more people—especially women—in the true crime world beginning to pay more attention to the victims of violence. Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is a good example. Writers give us the story of the perpetrators, but they are doing more to humanize victims and survivors. This is a bit part of the premise of Alison Gaylin’s fractured novel, Never Look Back. Podcaster Quentin Garrison is working on a new true crime podcast called Closure. The podcast will examine the crimes of the mass murdering couple of Gabriel LeRoy and April Cooper, through the lens of the fallout their crimes caused for the relatives of the people killed by the pair. Quentin was born years after the murders but he believes that his life has been irreparably damaged by them.
Quentin is interviewing his grandfather as Never Look Back opens. Quentin’s aunt was killed by Gabriel LeRoy in a mass shooting at an Arco in the 1970s. His grandfather and grandmother never recovered and Quentin’s mother, the couple’s surviving child, was left to fall into addiction. Quentin learns, over the course of his interviews with other people whose lives were touched by the LeRoy/Cooper murders, that he carries a lot of anger at his mother and grandfather for his own lonely childhood. We slowly learn more about the happened all those years ago through Quentin’s investigation, his interviews, and letters written by April Cooper while she was traveling (unwillingly) with the increasingly unhinged, controlling Gabriel. I most enjoyed the parts of the book where we have to reevaluate what we are told about the crimes through the condemnatory comments from the relatives of victims and from the often lurid accounts from the true crime media. The plot of Never Look Back might have followed the same plan as Quentin’s Closure podcast if it hadn’t been a tip from a man who believes that April did not die in a fire that was believed to have claimed the lives of the killer pair. Quentin follows the lead to a New York woman, Robin Diamond, who might be the daughter of the notorious (and possibly still living) April Cooper.
The best part of Never Look Back is the beginning, when the focus is still squarely on Quentin. I loved the matter-of-fact way that his relationship with his husband, Dean, is portrayed, and his struggle with his legacy of darkness and violence. When the perspective shifts to Robin and her attempts to figure out if her mother is April or not. The tone of the book shifts from psychological mystery to thriller in a way that belies the opening premise of honoring the victims and their relatives. In addition to the tone shit, the plot starts to whip back and forth with too many plot twists. If Never Look Back had stuck with Quentin—and if so much important action had not happened off-stage—this would have been a much better book.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss, for review consideration.