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. 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
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!