Whenever Laura Lippman takes a break from her witty, well-written series featuring PI Tess Monaghan, the results are stand-alone novels noticeably more smober in tone and perhaps more personal in their topics. But these works have also quietly expanded the definitions of a "crime novel" (especially with THE POWER OF THREE) and rank Lippman among the finest authors working today. And this is certainly the case with her latest work, WHAT THE DEAD KNOW.
The book opens with a woman navigating the icy winter roads outside Baltimore. She loses control of her car and causes an SUV to veer off the road. The woman leaves the scene of the accident and is soon discovered by the police. When questioned, the woman reveals a secret she has been withholding for many years. She claims to be one of the missing Bethany Sisters.
Thirty years prior to the novel's present, Sunny and Heather Bethany disappeared from a local mall and were presumed kidnaped. Their bodies were never found, so the case was nover officially resolved. But now, this woman insists she is Heather Bethany, the younger of the two missing sisters. Police press her to tell the whole story of how she and her sister were abducted, what happened to her older sister, where she has been for the past thirty years, and why she chose this particular time to identify herself. But the woman is reluctant to answer all these questions, even after she enlists the protection of a high-profile, publicity hungry lawyer. What little information she does give makes matters worse when she says that the man who abducted her and her sister was a local police officer.
Lippman skillfully shifts the point-of-view back and forth between the story's main characters: the police detective and social worker investigating Healther's story, the father and mother of the two sisters (and how the disappearance eventually destroyed their marriage), and Heather herself as she recalls growing up with her sister and the various identities she assumed when finally freed from her abductor. The tension mounts through these shifts as the facts fall together and the truth about the Bethany Sisters is finally revealed.
There is truly something for everyone in this powerful novel -- a twisted and dark mystery with overcasts of sexual abuse, fully realized characters, acute observations about families to rival any mainstream novel, and suspense to keep you turning pages to the very end.
Read it, then recommend it to your friends who don't understand "what you see in that stuff."
Crimespace members already know that Laura Lippman broke into the national best-sellers list with this new novel. And like me, you probably thought, "about flippin' time!"