The topic this week is What am I reading and why should you care? — at least I think it is. Let me start by saying that I just finished Deb Tish’s TOWN HOUSE — but since it goes without saying that it’s an amazing book and you should run right out and buy a copy, I thought I’d write about another recent read: WHAT THE DEAD KNOW by Laura Lippman. From page one on I was drawn in completely and even though I finished the book two weeks ago, I haven’t been able to get it out of my head.
Here’s the premise: A disoriented woman wanders away from the scene of a hit and run accident. Later, in the hospital, she claims to be Heather Bethany – the younger of two adolescent sisters who disappeared from a shopping mall thirty years ago. The unsolved crime has haunted residents of Baltimore for decades. How could anyone take not one, but two girls, from a busy mall on a Saturday afternoon? How could there be no witnesses? Not a single clue?
Is the woman in the hospital Heather Bethany? Or is it all an elaborate ruse? If so, why? And how does she know so many unpublicized details about the case and Heather’s life? And if she is Heather, where has she been all these years and why is she just now coming forward? All the leads she gives the police, her lawyer and social worker turn out to be dead ends. It seems no one can back up her ever-unfolding story. And there’s something not quite right in the way she’s telling it. Clearly, this woman is hiding something.
The story jumps around in time, showing us the sisters when they disappeared in 1975; what happened to their parents in the days, months and years following their disappearance; and finally, what happens when the woman claiming to be Heather returns to Baltimore. We also have the woman who claims to be Heather’s own flashbacks of living a series of lives under assumed names and hints at abuse by a mysterious man or men. She’s clearly a broken person, but is she Heather Bethany? And is the horrible story she’s telling about what happened to her and her sister true?
What I loved most about this puzzle-box of a book was that nothing and no one is what they seem. We’re shown scenes of a happy family, and only later do we learn their secrets. People are constantly reinventing themselves and their own versions of the past.
It’s a book that gets under your skin. Lippman is a master crime writer. She teases, drops bombs, and just when you think you’ve got it figured out, she gives you another clue that takes you in another direction entirely. And damn, the woman can write. More than a deeply satisfying mystery, WHAT THE DEAD KNOW is a beautifully done study on the nature of grief and guilt, and how we become who we are.