Laura Lippman is nothing new around here. I read most of her Tess Monaghan novels long ago, in my pre-blogging days. More recently, I read each of her standalone novels. Finally, I read her latest Tess story The Girl in the Green Raincoat (first serialized in the NY Times), which was published in January 2011. Now I bring you the latest in my Lippman reading history: her short story collection, Hardly Knew Her. Then my Lippman raving will cease -- at least, until she releases a new title.
As a rule, I'm not a fan of the short story genre. Character development, intricate plot, and descriptive setting are the best three things a book has to offer, in my opinion. Short stories rarely offer any of these. They are often too short for characters to develop, an intricate plot to unfold, or the setting to be described. Imagine my surprise when I found myself loving Lippman's collection.
The why is as simple as this: Lippman manages to include all three of the characteristics I deem necessary for a story to be good. In each short story. That's right -- not in the collection. In each story. She pens characters with ridiculous skill, moving them from innocents to murderers before our very eyes. Plot is also (somehow) easily developed in mere pages. Likewise, Lippman manages to illustrate a strong sense of setting in a minimal word count. Rather than staying in her usual neighborhood of Baltimore (although, make no mistake about it -- she includes a lot of Baltimore), Lippman also branches out and visits New Orleans, Dublin, and other cities.
Be forewarned, however, that Hardly Knew Her is not for the faint of heart. Lippman includes some of her most sinister characters yet -- and they're usually female. Lippman offers glimpses of women no less complex than the characters of her standalone novels, if somewhat less nuanced than the character of Tess. After all, Lippman has spent hundreds of pages developing Tess, and only dozens on these latest characters. There are several who are memorable enough to perhaps be seen again (or we can hope, anyway).
Until a new novel is released, you can get your fix of Laura Lippman's writing on her website, especially in the "Letters from Laura" archives. Better yet, get more up-to-date posts on her Journalscape, The Memory Project. (*Note: You do not have to log in to view public posts.)