Tag Archives: Laura Lippman

Triple Tess

Three Tess Monaghan Tales from Laura Lippman

Fans of Laura Lippman need no introduction to private investigator Tess Monaghan. Mystery fans that have yet to read these wonderful books, listen up! Tess is a one-woman force of nature – half Irish, half Jewish, and a Baltimore native through and through. (William Morrow has just re-released the Tess books in new trade paperback editions.)

In a Strange City: A Tess Monaghan Novel by Laura Lippman (William Morrow, $14.99, 401 pages)

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The connection between Edgar Allan Poe and Baltimore, the city where he died, is the jumping off point for this, the sixth book in the Tess Monaghan series. John P. Kennedy, an eccentric antiques dealer, asks Tess to find out the identity of a mystery man – a cloaked figure that delivers three roses and a half bottle of cognac at Poe’s grave on the anniversary of the poet’s birth. The cloaked man has apparently duped the antiques dealer by selling him a fake.

Naturally, Tess allows her curiosity to get the better of her and places herself in harm’s way by staking out the gravesite waiting for the action to begin. Rather than the customary figure making the gesture, there appears a second cloaked man. The second man shoots the first and escapes! This is too much for Tess and, as is her habit, she works the case even when her client disappears.

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Author Lippman takes some literary license with the name John P. Kennedy. Kennedy was, in real life, a wealthy man from Baltimore who assisted Poe with his writing career. Readers will become steeped in Baltimore’s culture, or lack thereof as she takes every opportunity to ensure an immersion experience.

By a Spider’s Thread: A Tess Monaghan Novel by Laura Lippman (William Morrow, $14.99, 354 pages)

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Tess gets off to a bad start with prospective client, Mark Rubin, an orthodox Jew, whose wife has disappeared with their three young children. Rubin, a furrier who inherited the business from his father, fervently believes that he has had an ideal marriage and is clueless as to the reason behind his family’s disappearance.

This time around, in the eighth book of the series, Tess’ work takes her outside Baltimore via a network of kindred spirits, female detectives who have formed an online assistance network. Rather than a Baltimore-centric story, By a Spider’s Thread focuses on what it means to be part of a Jewish family. Author Lippman provides a serious look at what happens in a family when lies and trickery put everyone at risk of loosing everything, including their lives.

No Good Deeds: A Tess Monaghan Novel by Laura Lippman (William Morrow, $14.99, 366 pages)

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Laura Lippman’s background as a newspaper journalist serves her well in crafting a tale wherein Tess is hired to teach the unseasoned reporters at the Beacon-Light, the Baltimore daily, on how to conduct an investigation for a story. A federal prosecutor’s unsolved homicide is the focus of her first assignment.

Happily, the story – the tenth in the Tess Monaghan series – opens with a narrative from Edgar “Crow” Ransome who has been Tess’ boyfriend for some time now; although, not without a previous break in their relationship. Crow is younger than Tess, a free spirit who volunteers his time and effort at the East Side Soup Kitchen when he’s not booking music groups for the bar where he works for pay.

This installment of the series expands Crow’s appearances and brings with him a new relationship. Crow befriends a young fellow named Lloyd who lives on the street and primarily survives by his wits. Never mind that one of the tires on Tess’ vehicle is punctured while Crow has it on the wrong side of town while assisting at the soup kitchen. One thing leads to another resulting in the Beacon-Light training assignment crossing over into the world that Lloyd inhabits.

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Ms. Lippman gives her readers an in-depth exposure to life on the streets in Baltimore, which is difficult at best and downright deadly when the wrong groups of denizens converge. Add in the discussion of racial bias prevalent throughout the city, and it’s obvious this series is more than homage to Ms. Lippman’s hometown. She is always a reporter, of the honest variety.

All three books are highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publisher.

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Baltimore Blues

Hush Hush TM

Hush Hush: A Tess Monaghan Novel by Laura Lippman (William Morrow, $14.99, 303 pages)

Can an author maintain reader loyalty and enthusiasm for her work encompassing 12 volumes released over 18 years? Moreover, can that author thrill her readers with tales peppered with suspense and more than just a hint of anxiety? After all, mystery readers come to expect the challenge of a tale with danger lurking in each chapter. If not, why bother with mysteries at all?

Laura Lippman scores another success with her latest novel, an episode in the Tess Monaghan series. Lippman has made good use of her intimate knowledge of Baltimore. Each scene brings the reader into the physical locale and sweetens the experience with the unique attitude of its inhabitants. Her characters are certainly down-to-earth. There are no super hero, matinee idol types to coax the story into a bit of unrealistic passion.

The past murder of a child by its mother, money and that mother’s need to reconnect to the children she left behind form the basis of the tale. Lippman jumps right into the scene, literally, with the opening chapter laid out as the script for an on camera interview of Carolyn Sanders, a former summer day camp worker who was the last person to witness the murderer as she tried to pick up her older two children at the school where the camp was conducted.

After the set-up, loyal readers are treated to some catching up with the people in Tess’s life, like Aunt Kitty and retired Baltimore Police Department homicide detective Sandy Sanchez. Each of them has matured in their own way and this maturity provides the tale with continuity and commitment.

There are complex interwoven plot lines, a signature of Lippman’s writing style. Tess, herself the mom of a three-year-old toddle, has to reconcile loyalty to her old friend and mentor, Tyner Gray, with the distaste of providing security for his client, Melisandre Harris Dawes, the baby murderer who has returned to Baltimore. Of course, no Lippman novel would be complete without a basic misunderstanding, or two or three. This book has just the right amount.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me

Dying to Know: A Mystery by TJ O’Connor (Midnight Ink, $14.99, 368 pages)

What does former government agent and security consultant TJ O’Connor do for an encore? Well, how about writing a mystery novel? This debut book by O’Connor has a twist that’s reminiscent of the movie Ghost.

The narrative opens with Tuck (police detective Oliver Tucker) investigating sounds of an intruder downstairs in his home in the middle of the night. In rapid succession, Tuck dies and his cop partner, Bear, and Tuck’s wife Angela behave strangely. There are evil goings on happening behind the scenes. As the body count rises, the reader may become a bit confused. Just who is a good guy and who is a bad guy?

The reader is treated to unique antics and seeming magic as Tuck adjusts to being dead and investigates his own murder. Time travel and scene shifting are the primary devices that O’Connor employs to good effect. Tuck’s faithful dog, Hercule, is able to recognize him but the humans need plenty of hints to sense Tuck’s presence. O’Connor leaves an opening for more mysteries to be solved by the ghostly detective.

Well recommended.

Love Water Memory: A Novel by Jennie Shortridge (Gallery Books, $16.00, 328 pages)

Love Water Memory

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The tale unfolds slowly, beginning with a 39-year-old woman found knee deep in the frigid water of San Francisco Bay. She is an amnesia victim who is dressed in designer clothes and seems a most unlikely person to be in her situation. Lucie Walker, as we come to know her, has been in a five-year relationship with Grady Goodall in Seattle. In fact, it’s just two months before their wedding when Lucie disappears from the house she shares with Grady. She’s been gone a couple of months before the incident in the bay.

The main characters are not immediately likeable. The reader learns about them through shifting scenes. Chapters dedicated to Lucie, Grady and Lucie’s Aunt Helen rotate throughout the book. We find major revelations that bring light to Lucie’s actions. Past issues have been deeply buried and Lucie must deal with them in order to accept who she is and how she feels about Grady.

The takeaway from this moody piece is the question, “What makes a person?”

Well recommended.

After I’m Gone: A Novel by Laura Lippman (William Morrow, $26.99, 352 pages)

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After I'm Gone

Super famous author Laura Lippman uses her hometown Baltimore as the setting of this clever mystery that is part family saga and part Cold Case TV plot. The underlying theme is all about the choices of partners made by Bernadette (Bambi) Brewer, and her daughters Linda, Rachael and Michelle. Lippman explores the notion of loneliness and missing a loved one. She uses the lyrics from “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me” to divide the book into sections. Mel Carter’s 1965 version brings back memories for me of slow dancing at parties. Sigh.

Felix Brewer, Bambi’s husband, fled their luxurious home in 1976 rather than waiting for the outcome of his appeal on an illegal gambling/bookmaking conviction. Although Felix appears in flashback chapters, his actions haunt the family he left behind. Each of his daughters has made a choice and must face the consequences that have followed.

Roberto (Sandy) Sanchez, a retired City of Baltimore police officer, takes on a missing person cold case in the capacity of consultant. It is the year 2012 and working cold cases helps him stay busy and spend less time missing his beloved wife Mary who has died. When Sandy diligently pursues every possible angle and information source, the missing person is tied back to Felix Brewer’s disappearance.

Lippman is a master of creating a cinematic feel when she sets the scenes for her carefully constructed plot twists. It seems to this reviewer that a movie could easily follow from the book.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publishers.

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Coming Up Next…

After-Im-Gone Book Review

A review of After I’m Gone: A Novel by Laura Lippman, and more.

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Damage Control

Gone Missing: A Thriller by Linda Castillo (Minotaur Books, $14.99, 297 pages)

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“What kind of monster does that to a fifteen-year-old girl?” I whisper.

Shocking, that’s the best way to describe the opening chapters of this, the fourth book in an Amish Country series written by Linda Castillo. The narrator is Kate Burkholder, the chief of police of a town called Painters Mill. She also happens to be a former member of an Amish community. Burkholder is troubled and damaged by past problems, yet she seeks to assist others. Her town is located in the Ohio farmlands and the time of year when the mystery takes place is spring. Rumspringa is in full swing; although, this version is significantly tamer than the TV shows about Breaking Amish.

State Agent John Tomasetti with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation teams up with Chief Kate Burkholder when an Amish girl who is out walking along a country road goes missing while doing an errand for her family. A pool of blood and a satchel for carrying vegetables are all that they find by the side of the road. Although the scene is outside her jurisdiction, Burkholder is called in as a consultant because of her Amish roots.

Author Castillo enriches her tale with in depth descriptions and background information related to the Amish folks who farm in Ohio. The stark contrast between these people living their simple bucolic lifestyle and the festering evil that exists in their midst makes for a gruesome and engaging thriller. Castillo is adept at building tension that may compel some readers to stay up late to finish the book as did this reviewer.

Highly recommended.

Every Broken Trust: A Mystery by Linda Rodriguez (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 304 pages)

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The chief of police in the next book is Skeet Bannion, a half-Cherokee woman, whose jurisdiction is the campus of Chouteau University which is located outside Kansas City, Missouri. There’s more to the job than just keeping a safe campus. Chief Bannion must participate in local politics and university affairs.

The story begins in a chatty bouncy manner as the chief expresses her dislike for hosting a welcoming party for the university’s new dean of the law school, as the growing guest list threatens to overwhelm her. It’s obvious that socializing with politicians and smarmy co-workers who have disillusioned her is bringing out the worst of her temper.

Once the stage is set and the character relationships are established, the story settles down. Of course the party includes drinking and at least one guest has one or two drinks too many. What follows is a post-party-murder after the drunk blurts out a scathing revelation that upsets the entire party. The body is found on university property which makes it Bannion’s task to catch the killer.

To complicate matters, Bannion is the guardian of a fifteen-year-old boy named Brian who is developing a friendship with the daughter of one of the smarmy politicos. Bannion is an evolving character and Rodriguez places her in situations that demand maturity and caring beyond the level Bannion has for her job.

Author Rodriguez is a Latina writer who brings a significant depth of understanding of the ways women and especially women of color are treated. The book is the second in her series featuring Skeet Bannion.

Well recommended.

Liars Anonymous: A Novel by Louise Ure (Minotaur Books, $14.99, 275 pages)

Liars Anonymous

He made sure there was no grime from the blast, then leaned back against the cab of my truck. “That’s the funny thing about the justice system. It makes no distinction between not guilty and innocent. I do.”

Shamus Award winner Louise Ure crafts an unusual mystery tale that is more suspense thriller than mystery. Her narrator, Jessica Damage, is a woman with a troubled past. Jessica works at a call center in Phoenix, Arizona for a service called “Hands On” that might as well be GM’s OnStar. An incoming call from a 2007 Cadillac Seville connects to her line. Jessica can’t help calling back after the call terminates abruptly even though the rules of her job make it technically illegal to eavesdrop when the call is reconnected.

Trouble finds Jessica daily as she searches for the answers to the questions sparked by the sounds she heard on the covert call. As Tucson is her hometown and two years earlier she was acquitted of a murder charge, her sleuthing actions take place all over the greater Tucson area.

Ms. Ure proves herself a true native by accurately telling the reader where Jessica is going and what she sees around town. This reviewer is quite familiar with Tucson and the descriptions were good enough to create a cinematic effect during the read. The characters’ deep feelings and crisp dialogue make Liars Annonymous a good read.

Well recommended.

“Louise Ure is an exciting new voice in the mystery field.” Laura Lippman

Review copies were received from the publisher.

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I Knew You When

I’d Know You Anywhere: A Novel by Laura Lippman (William Morrow Paperbacks, $14.99, 400 pages)

As with her prior novels, Laura Lippman does not disappoint as she again demonstrates her skill at writing crime fiction in the recent novel I’d Know You Anywhere.

To the outsider, Eliza Benedict appears to be a normal suburban stay-at-home mother of two with a loving, financially secure husband.   However, when she receives a letter from Walter Bowman, she’s instantly forced to relive her past.   Kidnapped by Walter at age fifteen, she was held hostage for almost 6 weeks.   Bowman, now on death row in Virginia, has found Eliza and reaches out to make amends.   As he presses her for increased contact, she begins to wonder what his real motivation is for contacting her.   She also wonders if she, too, may need something in return to secure full and complete closure on her past.

Lippman’s literary gift is in presenting interesting characters that the reader connects with.   By employing detailed descriptions and natural dialogue, she enables us to know each character in the story personally and intimately.

In I’d Know You Anywhere, Lippman’s writing is detailed and believable even when alternating between Eliza’s confident, yet conflicted (challenging yet clinging) teenager, to the delusional thought processes of Bowman.   Lippman provides fascinating insight into what it would be like to be abducted and the impact on the victim and family members as they subsequently attempt to resume their lives.

In this novel, Lippman not only presents an entertaining read, she also encourages the reader to contemplate the political dilemmas of the death penalty and debate whether death row meets its presumed function of bringing justice to the families of crime victims.   She further provides insight into the mind of someone with a mental illness; someone with twisted justifications of right versus wrong, and warped views on how his actions impact others.   My only critique is that I would have liked to see a bit more depth in Eliza – the main character – whose passivity in life becomes daunting at times.   However, the unique storyline and the  detailed personalities of Lippman’s characters provides for an intriguing, engaging and interesting story.

Well recommended.

Kelly Monson

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   I’d Know You Anywhere was released in trade paper form on May 3, 2011.

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She Is Still a Mystery

The Girl in the Green Raincoat: A Tess Monaghan Novel by Laura Lippman (Avon; $11.99; 176 pages)

This novella is another flawlessly written story by award-winning author Laura Lippman that you will not be able to put down and in the end will leave you wanting more.

Tess Monaghan is  private investigator confined to her home on bed rest in the third trimester of her first pregnancy.   While longingly watching the world go by outside her window, Tess becomes intrigued by a lovely girl wearing a green raincoat who takes long walks with her dog at exactly the same time each day.   Then one day Tess witnesses the dog running outside her window, leash attached, the owner nowhere to be seen.

Tess’s investigator instincts heighten full force into the possibilities of what could have happened to the owner and is determined to get to the bottom of the story.   Ignoring the advice of her cautious boyfriend Crow, she plunges into an investigation that leads to a string of crimes and deceit.   Her obsession with this girl in the green raincoat and her unruly dog creates a delightful storyline including murder, mystery and more.   Her vibrant characters, descriptive dialogue and an unpredictable ending make it a story you can’t pass up!

Highly recommended.

Kelly Monson

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Take It All

The Bird House: A Novel by Kelly Simmons (Washington Square Press; $14.00; 272 pages)

“Every family has its secrets.”

“Don’t you know there’s a stronger thing keeping us together?”   Pete Ham (“Take It All”)

This is a novel about a family secret.   Ann Biddle is a grandmother with a big secret about something that happened in her past.   Her granddaughter Ellie is doing research on the family for a school project.   Despite declining mental resources, Ann seeks to assist her loved one in filling in the blank spaces in the family’s past while simultaneously hiding the dark event in her own past.

There is, fortunately, not much in the way of detail in the book’s synopsis; this is a plus.   The less you, the reader, know about the story before you arrive at the final, 272nd page the better.   The read was partly destroyed for me by an early release review that carelessly divulged the secret in question and other key facts.   But there will not be a repetition of that here.

“This was the heavy burden of secrets: the longer you held them, the larger they grew, the more people they entangled.”

Second time novelist Simmons has a no-nonsense style that calls to mind Anna Quindlen or Laura Lippman.   She neither needlessly embellishes nor writes too sparsely – she provides just enough detail to make you identify with the female protagonist.   And Ann Biddle is a real human being, with true strengths and also defects of character.   And yet, despite her rapidly failing mental skills, she’s one tough and clever cat; those who think they’re going to get the best of her discover otherwise.

“Things never turn out quite the way you expect, do they?   In love or in life.”

At its end, this a tale about honesty and love versus deception and protection.   It is also a story that touches upon human hypocrisy – the tendency of some to hold themselves out as one thing while living a life different from the facade they wear:  “He always said the right thing, but he didn’t always do the right thing.”   It is a novel about powerful secrets, which is why some will be reminded of Fragile by Lisa Unger.

This novel is well worth the read and is well recommended. Just don’t let anyone who has already read it share its secrets with you.   Tell them, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “I was hooked from the very first page.”   Chevy Stevens, author of Still Missing.

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Over and Over

The Boomers in our audience will remember what things used to be like during the late 1950s and the early 60s.   A recording artist, like Chubby Checker, would have a hit with a song like The Twist; which meant that the follow-up 45 single had to sound as close to it as humanly possible (this usually meant a virtually identical tune with different words attached to it).   In Chubby’s case, the next song was Let’s Twist Again.   It is to the credit of the Beatles that they broke this pattern of releasing songs that were virtual clones of each other.

Sometimes as a reader and reviewer I see this same pattern applying itself when it comes to popular fiction.   Let’s say that our debut author Christy Crafty writes a novel called Becky from Bakersfield.   Against seemingly all odds this story of a woman who can see what is going to happen in people’s futures becomes a moderate success.   So what happens next?   You guessed it, Christy does not want to rock the boat so she releases a follow-up (and the titles and book covers will naturally be quite similar) called Florence from Fresno.   This will turn out to be almost the same tale except for the fact that this time around our female protagonist can see what happened in the past of the lives of the strangers she meets.   The third book may be Sally from Stockton, about a woman who knows when people will die as soon as she encounters them.

Now this may not be such a horrible strategy from a sales standpoint, except for the fact that book one is likely going to get great reviews, and each succeeding variation is going to be less charitably commented on.   Eventually, Christy herself is likely to see that she’s put herself into a rut.   And then even her most loyal readers will begin calling for something new and original from her.

Why are reviewers and readers going to be increasingly disappointed in this commercial product?   Because the freshness that accompanied the original novel from author Crafty is slowly leaked out like air from a damaged tire.   The once delightful story that gets reworked over and over again becomes dull and flat.

It is my own view – and it’s much easier for me to say since I do not write novels – that the moderately to highly successful new author should, after the release of the first well-sold and reviewed novel, quickly change styles before the release of the second book.   Why?   To prove to readers, critics and the world that he/she is a writer, one who can write novels of many forms, short stories, poetry (if the muse strikes), and perhaps articles on politics and sports.   Again, why?   Because this is the creative process – this is the essence of writing.   Writing the same story repeatedly is not creative and fails to display one’s talents.

It was the singer Natalie Merchant who noted that you simply cannot give the public what it thinks it wants, which is candy (musical or literary) all of the time.   If you do, the public gets tired of you after it comes down from the sugar high – the false creative rush.   Once they get tired of the same old thing, they not only stop buying it, they also join the critics in their anguished howls.

So what is the moral of the story?   That creativity has its costs.   Being creative, continually and over a career, takes courage.   It takes real courage to write what you need to write even if it is not what you wrote before…

Just look at the careers of this country’s most highly rewarded authors – the Capotes, the Mailers and others of their ilk – and you’ll see that they did not settle for rewriting one story time after time.   (Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood could not be less similar.)   They branched out; they changed even if simply for change’s sake.   They stayed alive, as the Beatles did with their music, ever evolving, ever-growing; each and every collection of songs by John, Paul, George and Ringo was the result of new periods and experiences in their lives.

To borrow the words of Bob Dylan, life should be about new mornings.   It’s not dark yet, unless you elect to go living in the past, the shades drawn tight.

Joseph Arellano

Pictured:  The Girl in the Green Raincoat: A Tess Monaghan Novel by Laura Lippman, which was released by William Morrow and Harper Audio on January 18, 2011.   This book (actually a 176 page novella) has absolutely no relationship to the matters discussed in this article – I simply like the intriguing cover image which makes me want to read it.   Look for a review of The Girl in the Green Raincoat to appear on this site in the near future.

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Reeling in the Years

I’d Know You Anywhere: A Novel by Laura Lippman (William Morrow)

There are writers who, like certain songwriters, can be admired more than they can be enjoyed.   In the field of songwriting, the team of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen – collectively known as Steely Dan – has often been praised for their tunes steeped in irony even if their songs are more clever (more intellectual) than charmingly fun.   I kept thinking of Steely Dan and, especially, the song “Reeling in the Years” as I read this latest novel from the prolific writer Laura Lippman.

Lippman’s skills are to be recognized as she persuades a reader to turn over 370 pages of a story that does not amount to a lot.   There are two protagonists.   There’s the now-38-year-old Eliza Benedict, who was kidnapped and raped and held for 39 days by Walter Bowman, who sits on death row in Virginia awaiting his execution.   Bowman is a spree-killer convicted of two murders in two states, but he may have killed as many as eight young girls.   Why he didn’t kill Eliza (then known as Elizabeth) when she was 15 is supposed to be a question that puzzles everyone.   Except that Bowman was captured after a simple traffic stop.   The notion that he might have killed Eliza had he not been taken into custody when he was seems to elude everyone here.

Although Lippman gives her readers a lot of twists and turns and feints, there’s not much drama in this crime drama, and not much thrill in this psychological thriller.   It is interesting enough, but just enough.

Eliza never comes to life, especially as she displays no anger against Bowman.   When Bowman contacts her just weeks before his scheduled death, she becomes his strangely witting accomplice without much effort.   Eliza is a character that’s simply not present in her own life:  “Her time with Walter – it existed in some odd space in her brain, which was neither memory or not memory.   It was like a story she knew about someone else.”

A character in the book, a hack writer who wrote a “fact crime” book about Bowman, complains that he’s just simply not as interesting a criminal as, say, Ted Bundy.   That’s certainly the case as we never come to know what it is that made Bowman a killer, nor how it is that this man with a said-to-be just average IQ is suddenly cunning enough to use his victim Eliza in a last-minute plan to gain his freedom.   Something key is missing here as the author admits:  “(Her) mother had long believed that Walter had experienced something particularly wounding in his youth.”

Since neither of the two characters ever becomes fully realized, it’s hard to care about whether Eliza will, in the end, forgive Walter and/or help him avoid execution.   The reader will, however, wonder why this now happily married woman is willing to risk her contented life for someone who harmed her.   Since Eliza does not know herself, she certainly will never come to know or constructively forgive her former captor.

A significant flaw in this crime drama is that the interactions with participants in the criminal justice system feel like flyovers, neither grounded nor concrete.   The lawyers seem to be portrayed more as actors (attention being given to how they look and dress) than as advisors.

In the end, this reader admires Lippman’s skills, her persistence and her success.   However, reading this novel was a bit like trying to listen to that Steely Dan song “Reeling in the Years” as it plays in another room, down the hall, too far removed to be heard clearly.

This review was written by Joseph Arellano.   A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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