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My mother dreams about relatives who have passed away. To her, those dreams are as real as a conversation. My sharp intuition once got her on the phone with one of my aunts in Honduras to exclaim, "Ay, she's like Tía Silvia!" Maybe the dreams are wishful thinking. Likely my intuitive nature is simply tied to a solid gut instinct and a strong ability to read micro-expressions. But it suffices to say, belief in something beyond ordinary existence has been threaded throughout my experience as the daughter of a Honduran immigrant. So when I read about how Verónica Gutiérrez's protagonist in her new procedural mystery AS YOU LOOK has sometimes unreliable, sometimes uncannily accurate dreams and visions of the future, I just nodded and rolled with it.
Former LAPD cop-turned-private-investigator Yolanda Ávila recently lost her mother to a car accident. She'd dreamed about the location of an identity thief she'd been investigating, and so she followed where her "juju," as she calls it, was leading her. Meanwhile, her mother was run off the highway by an erratic driver who turned out to be the very thief Yolanda was chasing. She's convinced that pursuing the dream lead, instead of tracking him down by using the license plate number she'd also uncovered, caused a critical delay in his capture—one that led to her mother's death. She blames herself, and she's determined "to be done with this intuition and dream crap," instead keeping her investigative focus on concrete facts.
But then she has a troubling dream about her godson Joey. Shortly thereafter, Joey disappears on his way to school, and it soon becomes clear that he's been kidnapped. Her wife Sydney won't let Yolanda play Scully to her Mulder: she lets Yolie know in no uncertain terms that she'll need every weapon in her arsenal to get Joey back—including listening to the Ávila gut instinct.
As Yolanda follows up on leads—while trying to avoid antagonizing her former LAPD coworkers with her meddling—her equally intuitive brother Jesse has a vision of Joey in a room with a red and white flag. The two soon realize it could belong to the United Farmworkers union. But brushing Jesse's raptures about the Ávila gift aside, Yolanda uses her investigative prowess to uncover a possible union connection to Joey's kidnapping: Joey's father is up for a lucrative construction contract, and bids are due in three days. Could the kidnapper work for a rival union company bent on knocking out the competition early?
Then, Sydney starts receiving threatening notes, demanding that she tell her wife to back off the kidnapping case. Yolanda's juju-meter dials up to 100, and she's forced into the same predicament that she feels led to her mother's death: Does she bat away the visions and hone in on the facts, ignoring a potentially helpful resource? Or give in and follow where they lead, though their unreliability means they could pose a distraction that costs Sydney her life?
I wasn't surprised to find that Verónica Gutiérrez is a former civil-rights attorney, as the procedural details in AS YOU LOOK feel like the work of someone who knows the ins and outs of legal investigations. It's immensely satisfying to watch Yolanda catch small details that even the most perspicacious readers may miss. The procedural elements feel spot on and well-thought-out.
Another bonus is Yolanda's relationship with her physician wife Sydney. So many mainstream-published books featuring LGBTQ+ characters focus, at least in part, on some type of discrimination or related family strife. For me, it was a pleasant surprise to read one about a healthy lesbian couple in the middle of a family and community that lovingly accepted them for who they were, without question. Perhaps that's one of the benefits of reading a novel from indie publisher Bella Books, which specializes in "fiction for and about women-loving-women": you sometimes get the pleasure of diving into the inclusive worlds we want to see, without all the same-old-same-old bigoted drama. I loved Sydney and Yolanda's partnership, and how gentle, whipsmart Sydney complemented Yolanda's go-in-guns-blazing personality.
My one quibble with the book is to something common among newer writers—the sheer number of characters Gutiérrez introduces had my head spinning, and I had some difficulty keeping track of who was who without taking notes. I could easily see where at least a few could have been consolidated without ruining the story.
However, that's a small thing in an otherwise excellent #OwnVoices story. AS YOU LOOK is a thrilling P.I. procedural, an uplifting window into an aspirational QPOC relationship, and a wonderful debut from a promising talent.
§ Tracy Fernandez Rysavy teaches literature and writing for the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and edits romance fiction for an indie publisher. She is the former editor-in-chief of the Green American magazine.
Reviewed by Tracy Fernandez Rysavy, April 2022
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