What the Dead Know

What the Dead Know



The Pequod Review:

Laura Lippman’s twelfth novel, What the Dead Know, begins with a car crash: A middle-aged woman walks away disoriented from a highway accident and tells police that she is Heather Bethany, one of two sisters who disappeared as a teenager from a suburban Baltimore mall thirty years earlier. From this simple premise, the story unfolds in ways I will not spoil, as the police, lawyers and even social workers investigate the case, uncovering extraordinary family secrets. Lippman’s complex novel weaves back and forth across time and place, and tells the story from multiple character perspectives. In the hands of a lesser writer this would be chaos, but Lippman’s story holds together at every step of the way. And her observational details are quite strong; here is how she introduces one of the book’s secondary characters (a social worker named Kay):

She took the coffee to a corner table and settled in with her emergency paperback, this one from her purse. Kay stashed paperbacks in every nook and cranny of her life – purse, office, car, kitchen, bathroom. Five years ago, when the pain of the divorce was fresh and bright, the books had started as a way to distract herself from the fact that she had no life. 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. At home she had to be hyperconscious not to use books to retreat from her own children. She would put her book aside, trying to watch whatever television program Grace and Seth had chosen, all the while casting longing glances at the volume so near to hand. Here at work, where she could have joined any number of colleagues for breaks and lunches, she almost always sat by herself, reading. Coworkers called her the antisocial worker behind her back – or so they thought. For all Kay’s seeming immersion in her books, she missed very little. 

This morning, for example she had picked up the details of the Jane Doe story withing minutes of arriving and unlocking her office.

What the Dead Know is an extraordinary book, a gripping and intelligent story that becomes much more than a crime novel.