Gabino Iglesias Reviews No Second Chances by Rio Youers

No Second Chances, Rio Youers (Morrow 978-0-06300-105-3, $27.99, 400pp, hc) May 2022.

Rio Youers’s No Second Chances is many things: a thriller, a story of redemption, a crime novel, a tale of friendship, and a narrative about identity, influence, and power that sometimes dips its toes into the realm of horror. However, the important thing is that it’s wildly entertaining, and that it might be Youers’s best book yet.

Luke Kingsley used to be somebody. People recognized him, he went to all the coolest parties, and his face showed up in films and popular TV shows. He was a star on the rise, but everything came crashing down after he woke up in the woods after a wild night, with no recollection of the previous hours and the blood of his wife, soul singer Lisa Hayes, plastered all over the front of his shirt. When Lisa didn’t show up, a viral pic­ture of Luke covered in blood and the fact that the couple had a tumultuous marriage was all the media and the people needed, to find him guilty of murdering her. The downward spiral culminated with Luke trying to commit suicide in his garage. However, it wasn’t meant to be; Luke was pulled out his garage and back into a life worth living by one of his neighbors, a young woman named Kitty Rae who recently moved from Kentucky to Los Angeles with dreams of being an actress. Kitty, like many other before her, is forced to do things to get by while waiting for her dream to happen, and in her case, the gig entails making drug deliveries from a local dealer and, eventu­ally, working for Johan Fly, a social media star and drug dealer who’s charming, powerful, rich, incredibly popular, and seems to have control of canary, the one drug in town that all the stars are craving because it lifts them like cocaine, without the crash or side effects. Kitty and Luke develop a friendship, and unlike everyone else, she believes him when he tells her he didn’t kill his wife. Luke helps Kitty land an audition with an agent and things seem to be looking up for both of them, but then Johan discovers that Kitty has been stealing some canary from him while making her drops, and he hates when people lie to him. Kitty manages to escape Johan’s axe – literally and figuratively – and hides with Luke. In the aftermath of Kitty’s escape, Luke learns where someone who might know what happened to his wife is hiding, and the duo set out to bring Johan down, find the man Luke is looking for, and try to stay alive.

That was a long synopsis, and I did everything I could to keep it as short as possible. There’s a lot happening in No Second Chances, and that’s a good thing. Youers has a knack for juggling various characters and points of view, and he does so while always keeping the narrative moving forward at breakneck speed.

This novel packs an entertaining mix of genre elements, but the two things that make it work very well – beside the pacing mentioned above – are character development and the way Youers dissects the LA/Hollywood scene. In terms of character development, Kitty and Luke are simply memorable. Instead of a main character, Youers went for two, and he pulled it off with flying colors. Kitty and Luke are both fighting demons, and they find refuge in each other de­spite all their differences. Luke’s career is dead, his best friend just died from cancer, his wife is still missing, and there’s a homicide detective who recently became a private investigator, who is sure of his guilt and harasses him all the time. Kitty is far from home, there’s a powerful drug dealer with incredible reach looking to kill her, and she’s haunted by her son, whom she gave away in adoption to a wealthy white family when he was born because she knew she’d never be able to give him the life he deserved. Everything in their lives seems to be either broken or on its way to being so, but Kitty and Luke believe in each other, and the love and support they show each other helps them get through whatever life throws at them. Because of their relationship, No Second Chances is a fast thriller with some horrific scenes that also morphs into a beautiful story about friendship and, despite the book’s title, second chances.

No Second Chances is a fun read. It’s tense and fast. Youers digs down and exposes some of the things that keep Hollywood moving, and many of them aren’t pretty. The narrative moves smoothly from fancy parties to dilapidated houses in the Mojave desert; from agents on the run to Johan’s social media and empires; from Luke’s part as an up-and-coming star to Kitty’s struggles, crappy jobs, and dreams of stardom. Youers has always been a talented storyteller, but this one is his best outing yet.

Gabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, professor, and book reviewer living in Austin TX. He is the author of Zero Saints and Coyote Songs and the editor of Both Sides. His work has been nominated to the Bram Stoker and Locus Awards and won the Wonderland Book Award for Best Novel in 2019. His short stories have appeared in a plethora of anthologies and his non-fiction has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and CrimeReads. His work has been published in five languages, optioned for film, and praised by authors as diverse as Roxane Gay, David Joy, Jerry Stahl, and Meg Gardiner. His reviews appear regularly in places like NPR, Publishers Weekly, the San Francisco Chronicle, Criminal Element, Mystery Tribune, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and other print and online venues. He’s been a juror for the Shirley Jackson Awards twice and has judged the PANK Big Book Contest, the Splatterpunk Awards, and the Newfound Prose Prize. He teaches creative writing at Southern New Hampshire University’s online MFA program. You can find him on Twitter at @Gabino_Iglesias.

This review and more like it in the June 2022 issue of Locus.

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