Laura Lippman,
I'd Know You Anywhere
(William Morrow, 2010)

I was a latecomer to Laura Lippman's novelist career, but since discovering her I have read everything she has written, including her short story collections. (It doesn't hurt that Baltimore is my hometown.) I put her among the heavyweights on the crime-fiction scene, including the current master, Michael Connelly. She is not a flashy prose stylist who deals in dark subjects (Gillian Flynn owns that turf), but a careful chronicler of ordinary people caught in dangerous situations. I think she creates the best female characters in the genre. Like Ross MacDonald, she is intrigued by crimes committed long ago that come back decades later to haunt someone. Faulty memory has been a favorite theme of hers recently.

Those going into I'd Know You Anywhere who expect her to deliver another rock-your-world surprise ending like she delivered in What the Dead Know may end up disappointed. The reason is that this is not a shocker, but a psychological suspenser. The key question -- does 38-year-old Eliza Benedict misremember what happened at age 15 while she spent weeks on the road with a deranged kidnapper/rapist/killer who is now on death row in Virginia weeks away from his lethal injection -- is the driving issue throughout the novel.

If Eliza's memory is faulty, and he can convince her in a face-to-face meeting, it could make him eligible for life in prison instead of death. He's got something to hang over her -- nobody (her husband and sister excepted) in her current life knows her past. He could out her to the world. She doesn't want that. Her kids don't even know this part of her past. She agrees to a meeting in the prison, which is the climax of the novel. And Lippman does pull off kind of a surprise.

I liked it that Lippman now feels free to set aside her Baltimore mania -- the novel is set in the D.C. suburbs in Maryland and Virginia -- that actually burdened novels like In a Strange City. Baltimore is cool, Laura. Everyone knows this now. Time to move on. You have readers now that don't care that the Brass Elephant is your favorite bar hangout. It's out of business now anyway.

The likelihood is strong that Baltimore mania will return when she delivers her next Tess novel (though not necessarily -- Tess has had adventures elsewhere). That's fine with me. I grew up with Berger cookies and Esskay franks. But Laura, where do you go for snoballs? Plus, Tess really needs a doctor who can correct her allergy to shellfish. In Crabtown, USA, that's just perverse. Sorry, but if you live in Baltimore and love Laura Lippman novels, you have a certain ownership.

Oh, and some advice: If you are ever in Federal Hill and visit the Spoons coffee house, don't bother the woman writing on her laptop.

book review by
Dave Sturm

18 December 2010

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new