Barbara Bryant's Reviews > What the Dead Know

What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman
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Apr 29, 12

Read in April, 2012

This is my first Lippman, as far as I can remember. I was drawn to it because a friend of mine reads her and because it sounded dark and intense, as the cover said. This 2007 book, set in the present, is told around the story of two young girls who go to a mall by bus one day in March and never return home.

Thirty years later, a woman is driving her car in the Baltimore area, and skids on an oil slick left by an earlier accident. Hitting another car in the process and injuring a young boy as his car falls down an embankment, the woman, who it says is near her own home, pulls to an abandoned road some way past the accident and stops the car to catch her breath.

When police arrive with accusations that she left the scene of an accident, the woman, who seems both disoriented and steadfast in her refusal to give her name or discuss the accident, murmurs at last that she is "one of the Bethany girls". Injured slightly in the crash herself, the woman is taken to the hospital where she is questioned by police anxious to identify and charge her. Her purse carries no ID and the car she was driving is registered to an unknown person who she firmly states is not her. Over time she "confesses" that she is the younger Bethany girl, Heather, the 11-year-old who disappeared so long ago with her sister, Sunny, fifteen I think.

In the book we follow Detective Kevin Infante, a police, as they apparently say in Baltimore, as he and others search out the old Bethany file and contact the officer who was assigned to the case in the 70's. The girls' mother has left the area and the father is dead, leaving few contacts and little information to draw on. Without risking an actual spoiler, I will say that the character of the girls and the fact that both were apparently abducted, which is a little difficult and unusual, are clues to consider.

Lippman writes a nice procedural, especially given the lack of physical clues to use DNA on, and she is good at showing the painstaking grubbing away that is characteristic of a "cold case". The stubborn "Heather" offers no real help to the police, and requires a great deal of care and concern for herself. Who is she? Is she an attention seeker who has read of the case, or some other connection who wants to make some money out of it?

As each tantalizing bit of news inches you closer to the truth, Lippman makes you think--I guessed at many things, including the actual truth, but with very different details. I will read more of this author to see if her solid story-telling skills hold up--I expect that they will.
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