When Truman Capote wrote In Cold Blood, he called it a non-fiction novel. With No One You Know, Michelle Richmond has written what might be called the fictional true crime story. Ellie Enderlin lives in San Francisco where she works as a coffee buyer, traveling to many countries to find the very best beans. Her sister Lila, a math genius, was murdered 20 years earlier while studying at Stanford. Things have come together in such a way for Ellie that she thinks its time to find out who killed Lila, and why.
All in all, I enjoyed reading this story and Michelle Richmond’s writing style is smooth and easy to follow. Anyone who has lived in or loves San Francisco will connect with certain places and scenes in the book (the main character went to college at U.S.F.). Richmond also has a sly sense of humor… In one scene Ellie steps into a coffee house that features books having a certain theme. This time the theme is fog, and one of the books featured is Footsteps in the Fog: Alfred Hitchcock’s San Francisco. Then there’s, “a novel that I’d read recently, a sort of literary mystery about a kidnapping set in San Francisco. The book had been interesting, if somewhat drawn out.” In this way Richmond both references and makes fun of her earlier book, The Year of Fog. Clever!
But there was a problem and it went to believability. Early on, Richmond puts Ellie together with a former Stanford student who was thought to be a prime suspect in her sister’s death; what today would be called “a person of interest.” But instead of permitting them to meet in the Bay Area, she transports both to the village of Diriomo, Nicaragua. This seemed quite unnecessary – I still don’t see the rationale for it – and it made me wonder if I would find the remainder of the story to be credible. Fortunately, Richmond’s telling makes a full recovery. But…
The story also seemed about 31 pages too long. The natural ending – the resolution of the basic story – comes at page 275, but it continues on until page 306. (In Richmond’s own words, somewhat drawn out.)
Despite a couple of issues mentioned here, I look forward to reading Richmond’s next novel. I may also read The Year of Fog, a book I decided earlier to by-pass due to its subject matter. Richmond’s strengths lie in addressing the topics of morality, trust, human relationships, love and loss. In No One You Know, she makes a superb case for the need to learn (and accept) the truth about those we love – because the truth defines them in human scale, in human terms. And as Jackson Browne would remind us, sometimes we didn’t know what it was that we loved about another person. The love was enough.