Friday, November 26, 2010

Reading Laura Lippman's Standalone Novels

Over the past couple of months I have read each of Laura Lippman's standalone novels (separate from her Tess Monaghan series, which I have been reading for years). I began with What the Dead Know (which I reviewed back in October), then read Every Secret Thing, To the Power of Three, and finally her latest I'd Know You Anywhere. I'll save the newest novel for a post all of its own, but I wanted to combine some of them. Giving short takes on two of Lippman's standalone novels seems to make sense, so here they are:

  • Every Secret Thing: Lippman often focuses on unlikely criminals. She does this both as a plot element (it makes plot almost impossible to predict) and as a manner of character development. In characters, Lippman reminds readers that everyone has a good side and a bad side; very seldom are humans fully one or the other. In this novel, Lippman introduces two young girls as criminals, guilty in the crime of a baby's abduction and subsequent death. But how did this crime unfold, and who are the true guilty parties? As both girls are released from prison after their eighteenth birthdays, the baby's mother goes on a warpath to put them back behind bars. Then other girls begin to show up missing. Are the newly released former kidnappers responsible? Or is it all a timing coincidence of the worst sort?
  • To the Power of Three: In this novel, Lippman again focuses on teens, but who committed the crime is much less clear. School violence seems to be the theme, as three girls are shot in a school bathroom just after the school day begins. At first, one of the girls seems to be the main suspect. The three were best friends, growing up together in a suburb of Baltimore. It seems to be a cut and dried case; after one became an outcast of the trio, she took a gun to school and shot her former friends and then herself. However, as time goes on and the investigation continues, everyone begins to wonder what exactly happened inside those bathroom walls. 

     Interestingly, although these and the other two above are not part of a series, they are all set in or around Lippman's Baltimore (click on this link for a story NPR did on the city from Lippman's perspective). The books also all include some of the same characters, in both police and other law enforcement. However, in these novels the investigators are always on the periphery of the action, rather than central to it, as Tess is in her series.

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