Tag: Laurie Rockenbeck

Book Review: And Now She’s Gone

By Laurie Rockenbeck

Rachel Howzell Hall’s newest offering, And Now She’s Gone, introduces us to newbie private investigator Grayson Sykes. With her wrinkled clothes and easy distractibility, Gray comes across as a latter-day Colombo. She forgets to record interviews, can’t remember to take antibiotics on time, and finding a working pen is beyond her.  In spite of all her fumbling and absent-mindedness, Gray is able to follow individual clues and piece things together in her own, unique way­.

To prove Isabel Lincoln is alive and well, her boyfriend, Ian, has hired the investigation firm Gray works for to find her. It’s not long before we learn Ian is more interested in reclaiming the dog Isabel took with her than finding Isabel. His assertions that he’s a “nice guy” make him an obvious and fun-to-loathe character. There are plenty of possible suspects and scenarios that Gray must pick apart to get to the truth. Plenty of twists and turns drive the plot in a fast-paced, mostly thrilling journey.

Hall does a masterful job of rendering how Gray’s history coincides with the case she is working on. At times, Gray is made impotent by her fear from past trauma. It’s apparent that Gray is in emotional limbo, and she has to deal with her baggage before she can truly live in the present. Gray figuring out her own issues while delving into what is really going on with Isabel provides the opportunity for commentary on some heavy social issues—racism, domestic violence, alcoholism, abuse.

Told in a close third-person point of view, we get Gray’s acerbic thoughts rendered in a sarcastic voice. Gray is judgey and quick to point out other people’s hypocrisies. At one point, Gray finds herself in a hipster vegan restaurant after it is well-established Gray is most fond of traditional comfort food. She pushes aside the kale chips in front of her while “[p]atio diners vaped, and massive plumes of their alt-smoke billowed from mouths too sensitive for meat and peanuts.”

Hall’s dark humor prevents the book from falling into preachiness. Early in the story, Isabel sends Gray a text asking Gray to lay off, to let Isabel stay missing. Gray’s response is dark and kind of hilarious:

Not typical for a missing woman to respond with text messages. One didn’t need to be a cop to know that missing women usually communicated via left-behind femurs or ragged finger-nails crammed with the scraped skin of her murderer. Not Isabel Lincoln. She was one of a kind.

Throughout, we get snippets of what it is like to be a black woman in America blended with descriptions of Los Angeles that make us feel like we know the city.

No one ever fell in love on the 10 or said, “Ooh, let’s take the Ten––we have time.” It simply bored you to death with its meth-town Denny’s and Del Tacos, places where colored people dared not pee. Better to risk urinary tract and bladder infections than to pee beneath a Confederate flag next to someone with Aryan Brotherhood tats on his bi-ceps or her stretch-marked boobs. Gray and Nick did all their peeing at Indian Casinos.

In another passage where Ian warns Gray about being in a rough neighborhood, she looks around and sees a few dark-skinned women jogging in Lululemon along clean streets and rolls her eyes at the depiction. Ian does not know rough the way Gray knows rough.

For the most part, the various threads and plot twists are satisfactorily resolved. As in, this book meets expectations of a PI novel—we get a pretty bad-assed PI who solves the case while experiencing LA through some fresh eyes. There are a few things left hanging, one thread in particular that I hope is purposeful and will lead to a second book in a series. While this is reportedly a stand-alone novel, I see potential in Gray’s development as a PI in future works.

The fast-paced read may be too much for some people—once you get going it really is hard to put this book down–– but it makes a satisfying couple of evening’s worth of entertainment. There are a couple of similes that move into groan-worthy territory. For example, saying someone “… wore a Bluetooth earpiece like the commander of the starship Enterprise …” will make most Trekkies roll their eyes. The phrase “…like a virgin at a prison rodeo” sent me on a search for some ritualistic sex practice. But really, it’s easy to forgive these hiccups when weighed against everything else that makes this book such a fun read.


Laurie Rockenbeck was raised a Navy brat and moved around a lot as a kid. She lives near Seattle with her family, two cats, and a dwindling number of chickens. She graduated with a degree in journalism and quickly learned that writing fiction was a lot more fun. With a grandmother who started every story with: this is a true lie…, there is no doubt that story-telling and exaggeration are part of her genetic make-up. Rockenbeck has her private investigation license but prefers writing about made up cases over investigating real ones. Her mystery series features Seattle Police Department’s only trans male homicide detective and a pro dominatrix turned PI. She is pursuing her MFA in Fiction at UC Riverside’s Palm Desert Campus. Visit Laurie at LaurieRockenbeck.com

Book Review: Blacktop Wasteland

By Laurie Rockenbeck

S.A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland is a fast-paced story that throws us against the seat and makes us grab for the “oh-shit-bar” from start to finish. It would be easy to dismiss this as a summer read, a fun heist story with exciting chase scenes that compels the reader to keep turning those pages with one satisfying twist after another. That would be a mistake. While Blacktop Wasteland is all of that, it is also an indictment against classism and racism written with a subtlety that eschews preachiness. Instead, Cosby gives us poverty-stricken Virginia with its closed strip malls, trailer parks, and white supremacists drawn with a voice so southern you can hear the twang as you read.

Beauregard “Bug” Montage is short on rent, and he turns to the one thing he knows will grow the thousand bucks in his pocket into two—drag racing. The old Duster he’s driving is a lot like Bug; what’s under the hood is much more complex than the exterior. The Duster isn’t just any car; it’s a proxy for Bug’s father, a man who disappeared years ago and whom he continues to idolize, worship, and revere with the pain of a child who’s never dealt with the grief. That he’s seen death early and often permeates the story and Bug’s interior thoughts:

The Grim Reaper sneaks up behind you and squeezes you until shit fills your adult diaper and an artery bursts in your chest. He works his bony fingers in your guts and makes your own cells eat you alive from the inside. He skull fucks you until your brain retreats inside itself and you forget how to even breathe. He guides the hands of a man you’ve wronged and aims his gun at your face. There is no dignity in death. Beauregard had seen enough people die to realize that. There’s only fear and confusion and pain.

Without Bug’s deep connection to the Duster, it would be difficult to suspend our disbelief as Bug makes one awful decision after another. Fortunately, Cosby gives us plenty with which to empathize with Bug’s plight. Nothing goes as Bug plans, and his financial burdens mount to the point where he is absolutely desperate. When Kia, his wife, reminds Bug he could sell the Duster for twenty-five grand and solve much of their financial woes, we are poised to buy into Bug’s unwillingness to sell this stand-in for his father.

Instead of selling the Duster (or doing any of the other reasonable things most people would do in real life), Bug chooses to return to his criminal past. He’s the best wheel-man in Virginia, and he has old connections he can draw upon to find his way back in for one last job to pay off his debts.

Bug goes against his gut feelings and agrees to do one big job with people he knows he shouldn’t trust, Ronnie and Reggie Sessions. The brothers describe themselves as ‘white trash,’ but Cosby brings complexity to these characters by reminding us even the nastiest people have emotions and people they love. The brothers will do anything for each other. Ronnie spent three years in jail for something Reggie did because he knew Reggie is too soft to handle jail time. This bond proves disastrous for Bug who refuses to acknowledge a myriad of warning signals flashing in bright neon off these men. The Sessions are only interested in blow and booty, a hungry greed with little regard for anything beyond their own interests. Bug is driven by the need to provide security for himself and his family in a world that keeps pushing him down. The unifying force behind all of them is abject poverty brought on by decades of systemic classism.

We read with hands over our faces and peeking out through our fingers at disastrous turn after disastrous turn wondering if Bug is going to survive, let alone how. Blacktop Wasteland is Southern Noir in every best way possible.


Laurie Rockenbeck was raised a Navy brat and moved around a lot as a kid. She lives near Seattle with her family, two cats, and a dwindling number of chickens. She graduated with a degree in journalism and quickly learned that writing fiction was a lot more fun. With a grandmother who started every story with: this is a true lie…, there is no doubt that story-telling and exaggeration are part of her genetic make-up. Rockenbeck has her private investigation license but prefers writing about made up cases over investigating real ones. Her mystery series features Seattle Police Department’s only trans male homicide detective and a pro dominatrix turned PI. She is pursuing her MFA in Fiction at UC Riverside’s Palm Desert Campus. Visit Laurie at LaurieRockenbeck.com.

Book Review: Please See Us

BY LAURIE ROCKENBECK

Caitlin Mullen’s debut novel Please See Us takes genre norms, chews them up, and spits them out into a gripping literary thriller. This ambitious work delves into a myriad of societal issues—trafficking, bullying, motherhood, drug abuse, mental health, inadequate foster systems, and misogyny.

In the prologue, we are introduced to two nameless women lying together as described by a distant omniscient narrator. If this were a movie, it would begin with a long shot of an airplane flying an advertising banner low over a decrepit Atlantic City. The camera would leave the plane as it swoops around to the back of a grungy pay-by-the-hour hotel and focus on the two women who are “laid out like tallies in the stretch of marsh just behind the Sunset Motel.”

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Book Review: What A Body Remembers

By Laurie Rockenbeck

Karen Stefano’s What A Body Remembers is a timely and moving illustration of how our bodies instinctively tie our senses and memories together. It is a compelling book that reads as much like true crime as it does memoir, while delving into heady topics like trauma, PTSD, and victim blaming. Stefano manages to approach these subjects with a sensitivity that invites the reader to a deeper understanding of the after-effects of trauma while evoking empathy over pity.

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