Honey McGuinness is an addict. Booze, cigarettes, drugs, industrial chemicals, sex. You name it. Honey's addictions aren't the result of a spoiled brat living off of Daddy's credit card. No, Honey earned hers the old fashioned way: a horrible childhood. Her mother committed suicide and her father sexually abused her. The girl's got a hole in her heart that nothing but love can fill. Unfortunately, the world Honey lives in seems to be fresh out of love.
In the first Honey McGuinness book, Threshold, she set out to solve a friend's murder. I didn't read the book but I tried to learn as much as I could about it. This review and that one helped. By the end of that novel, Honey badly needed to get away.
In Just Before the Dawn, Honey is holed up in Pie Town, population 86. She figures that if she can get a taste of normal life she'll be able to stay out of trouble and clean up her own. Pie Town is wonderfully dull at first, but eventually Honey gets an old itch that she can't scratch. She falls off the wagon. Hard. She makes several bad decisions and before she knows it she's wanted for murder, maimed, and aware that some small towns harbor disturbing secrets.
Make no mistake, there's plenty of explicit sex in this book. While other authors would choose to fade out the scene and leave the sexual encounter to the reader's imagination, Kozek keeps the cameras rolling. These scenes share a frankness that one would typically find in Penthouse Letters, but the odd thing is that none of them were gratuitous. At first, the sex scenes are used to reveal how Honey came to be seduced by the story's antagonist, but later they're utilized to show how depraved and cruel he is. At every step of the way, sex either reveals something about the characters or advances the plot.
As Honey is the narrator, we have to rely on her to provide us with a sense of who these people are that she's interacting with and what's going on. Considering how often Honey is out of it, it's amazing that Kozek is able to make her reliable. She draws a wonderful portrait of Alice, the divorced, heavyset woman who runs the motel with her purse-sized dog, Romeo. And when Honey gets into trouble, we're just as lost as she is, which adds to the suspense. When Honey passes out, we're unable to watch over her while she sleeps it off. We feel her fear when all the promise of a normal life evaporates like a spilled bottle of gin on a hot desert highway. What may come as a surprise is that Honey is introspective enough to realize she has serious emotional problems. But there's also a level of brutal honesty that comes along with it whose confessions aren't admitted to outside one's own head.
In summary, Just Before the Dawn is a raw, unexpurgated noir thriller. Kozek gives us an unfiltered view of Honey's bruised and battered, yet still spunky, soul as she wrestles with her demons, both past and present. You know that horrific three car wreck that's been pushed to the median of the highway? You want to look but you resist the urge, partly to keep traffic flowing but mostly so you'll be spared the image of torn up bodies burned into your retinas. Well, Kozek pulled over to not only look but to write it all down for you to secretly read later in the comfort of your living room. You'll be glad she did the dirty work for you.
The book is available in print and ebook formats. The links can be found on Kozek's website.