Dear reader, life is too short for crap books.

Monday, June 18, 2007

More Early Competition for the Best of 2007

What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman

After reading Baltimore Noir, the collection from Akashic's city noir series edited by Lippman, I knew she was a writer I wanted to follow. And then, conveniently, What the Dead Know was published. If reading Baltimore Noir was like receiving a sampler from See's Candy, What the Dead Know was like being deeded the title to the whole damn store.

On Easter weekend 1975, the Bethany sisters went to a Baltimore mall, snuck into Chinatown, got kicked out, and were never seen again.

Thirty years later, a dazed woman involved in a hit-and-run on a Baltimore freeway claims to be the one of the missing girls. Using the story to stay out of jail, and teasing out its details bit by tantalizing bit, Heather has the police, the hospital social worker, and even her own lawyer wrapped around her little finger. From the beginning, they suspect she's lying. Most of her answers lead to dead, unverifiable ends, and all of them wrap up a little too conveniently. Still, she has information about the case that was never made public, knows things that only a Bethany would know.

Lippman introduces so many plausible leads and angles, that I rarely got through a chapter without thinking I had the whole thing wrapped up. At one point, I actually came to the correct conclusion, although I discarded it in favor of another suspect almost immediately, and didn't think of it again until the end of the book.

But Lippman isn't just good at the twists. What places this mystery among the truly top-shelf is her ability to explore her characters' dark interiors and back stories. Kate Atkinson did this in Case Histories, and much less successfully in One Good Turn (sometimes a little back story goes a long way), but Lippman's characters ring absolutely true in ways that Atkinson's sometimes don't. What the Dead Know is a terrific, disturbing puzzle with terrific, disturbing human emotion at its core.

If you liked...: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn or Mystic River by Dennis Lehane, this book is for you.

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