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Review – What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman

what the dead know

What the Dead Know
by Laura Lippman
376 pages
Published March 13, 2007
Fiction, mystery

What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman was picked by my in real life book club. I knew nothing about it going in, but within a few pages I was hooked and excitedly tweeting how much I was loving this book.

I guess you could say this is a murder mystery, since that is the premise, but I would argue it’s much more than that. Basically, 30 years ago two girls, sisters, Heather and Sunny, disappeared, and the murder was never solved. The parents, Dave and Miriam, of the sisters ultimately divorced, and Miriam moved down to Mexico while Dave passed away in his 50s. The reason the case is brought up again is because a woman who is involved in a car accident tells one of the officers that she’s one of the missing girls. And she knows things about the area that you could only know if you’d lived there, and she knows details about the case that you could only know if you’d been involved, but she’s being awfully cagey and doesn’t really want to see her mom so what the heck is going on and maybe this girl is an imposter?

The story unfolds in alternating chapters, some in the present, and some unfolding the story from the past.

Lippman does a fantastic job at character development, but treats the reader to some humor while she’s at it:

But over time Kay came to realize that she preferred her books to other people’s company. Reading was not a fallback position for her but an ideal state of being.

Kay sometimes thought she should get a little custom-made button: I’m not gay, I just like read.

In particular there was a lot of development about the parents and their marriage. The point of view changes from various people throughout the book (the sisters (Heather and Sunny), the social worker (Kay), the parents (Dave and Miriam), etc), so you sometimes see the same incident through both eyes, say, a scene with the two parents, and it really gives you a deeper understanding of the complexities of a marriage.

(Dave is thinking about Miriam letting him open his own business) Lately he had begun to wonder if Miriam figured that she would benefit either way. The store would make them rich or provide her with something to hold over Dave’s head the rest of their lives. She had given him his chance, and he had blown it. Now every disagreement between them was rooted in that unspoken context: I believed in you / You blew it.Β  Had she hoped all along that he would fail?

And the way Lippman touches on the grief of the parents just ripped my heart out. Miriam chooses to move on, while Dave chooses not to. Can you really criticize either choice? Particularly after Miriam observes:

“But if I don’t accept the probability of their deaths at this point, how do I live? How do I go on?”

“It’s hard,” she said. “Remaining open to hope, yet needing to grieve. Whatever I do or say, I feel as if I’m betraying my daughters. We just want to know.”

I’m sure many people could figure out the ending within the first 50 pages. But this book is so much more than the plot. The author had so much more to say than to tell you whodunit. The complexities of marriage, guilt, grief, and responsibility are just a few of the subjects that Lippman touches on, and touches on well.

I was disappointed that only myself and one other book club member really enjoyed the book. In fact, after the other members left, I lingered with the other person who enjoyed the book and we discussed passages we loved, passages that touched us for one reason or another. But maybe that’s what makes books so special: not every book is important or profound to everyone else, so it holds a little bit of magic for those of us who it does touch.

Rating: 92 out of 100

Laura Lippman’s website

Other reviews:

Reactions to Reading

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Book source: I checked this book out from the library, and ended up paying like $3.00 in overdue fines, so I should probably be irritated and give it a bad review, but alas, I liked it too much.

And one more thing? If you click on one of the What the Dead Know links and buy something from Amazon, I’ll make a commission! Mwahahahaha!! Maybe with the pennies I make I’ll be able to call someone who cares.

You can thank the FTC for this disclosure!

| Tags: , , , 24 comments »

24 Responses to “Review – What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman”

  1. Heather

    Wow, Trish, this sounds great! I don’t think I could read it though:

    “And the way Lippman touches on the grief of the parents just ripped my heart out. Miriam chooses to move on, while Dave chooses not to. Can you really criticize either choice? Particularly after Miriam observes:”

    As a mom, that scares me! I’m glad you enjoyed the novel though and that you found someone to talk with about it who loved it too!


  2. Jennifer @ Mrs. Q: Book Addict

    Sounds like a good read. I’ve added it to my TBR list.


  3. Steph

    I heard about this one a year or two ago and thought it sounded interesting… but then I read some negative/lukewarm reviews and it fell off my radar. It kind of sounds like a blend of In The Woods and The Likeness, though, doesn’t it? And we all know how much I loved those books… I think this would probably be the kind of mystery I would enjoy.

    Out of curiosity, why didn’t the other people in your book club care for this one?


  4. nat @book, line, and sinker

    okay, i admit that i stopped reading your review two sentences in because now i want to read this book!! maybe i’ll see if i can score it on my kindle. πŸ™‚

    ps. did i mention previously that i love the new layout? so pretty!


  5. Kay

    Trish, I remember wanting to read this book soon after it came out. I think I purchased it. Wonder what shelf it is on or what it is behind? πŸ™‚

    Thanks for reminding me about it. Laura Lippman is an author that I keep meaning to read, but haven’t yet. Did you book group at least have a good discussion of the book? I know the groups I attend have some of our best talks when we don’t agree.

    Oh, and your new layout is lovely.


  6. Diane

    I liked the audio version of this book as well; great review Trish!


  7. Kathy

    This sounds like a book I would like too! I think I read one of Lippman’s books years ago, but I’m not 100% sure.


  8. kathleen

    This sounds like one I would enjoy. Even if I could figure out the mystery in the beginning, I would be fascinated by all of the dynamics between the different characters. I know I have read something my Lippman before and enjoyed it although I can’t for the life of me remember what book it was!


  9. Heather

    I always see her books at the library and think I should pick one up, but I never do for some reason. Your review REALLY helped me see that I should! So, thanks! Also…. I didn’t know you had a new layout! I LOVE it! πŸ™‚


  10. sarah pekkanen

    How funny – I used to sit near Laura at The Baltimore Sun newspaper! I think this book is inspired by a real-life kidnapping of sisters many years ago in Maryland. I haven’t read it, though I’ve loved many of her other books. Need to get to this one!


  11. Nicole

    This sounds like a Tana French book, and of course sounds really good. I had no idea who the author was when you announced your challenge, but from your review of this book it seems as this author and the rest of her books could be worthwhile. I love those discoveries.


  12. Lisa

    My complaint with this book was that I felt it took too long to wrap up. Otherwise I really liked it and more Lippman books are definitely in my future.


  13. Julie

    I haven’t heard of this one, but it sounds really good. I’m horrible at predicting things in books, so maybe it won’t be so obvious to me. Thanks for the review!


  14. Beth F

    Where to start on that Lippman challenge? This looks good, but so does her series. I’m excited to get reading!


  15. jennygirl

    Interesting book…what if? And if the girl is one of the missing why did she never come back? Your review had piqued my interest. Thanks Trish!


  16. Christie

    This book is on my tbr shelf, but after reading your review I’ve moved it closer to the top of the pile!


  17. Serena (Savvy Verse & Wit)

    I really just love your FTC disclosure. πŸ™‚

    Sounds like a good mystery!


  18. J.C. Montgomery

    I have wanted to read this book for over 2 years, but only recently was able to get a copy.

    After this review, I want to read it now more than ever.

    Thank you for such wonderful insights!


  19. Amused

    Wow this book sounds great. Sometimes I have to be in a particular mood to be able to get through books this sad but they are usually worth it!


  20. Lynn Spencer

    Oh, I loved this book, too! It’s a big favorite probably for the same reason I really enjoy Tana French – it’s a mystery but so much more. This was my first Laura Lippman read, but I’ve already added another of hers to my TBR.


  21. zibilee

    I am gettting ready to read Life Sentences by Lippman for a book tour and am excited to see this review and to get a smaple of Lippman’s writing. The book sounds really good, and even if the plot is somewhat predictable, it sounds like the journey was not. Great review! My book club might like this one as well.


  22. bookworm

    this does sound good, I need to add her to my TBR.
    ‘maybe that’s what makes books so special: not every book is important or profound to everyone else, so it holds a little bit of magic for those of us who it does touch’-perfectly stated!


  23. Mickie G

    I have read almost every novel by Ms. Lippman. This book was well crafted. I do, however, prefer her Tess Monaghan series.


  24. Book Review: What the Dead Know « ReviewsbyLola's Blog

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