I was first introduced to Laura Lippman through her Tess Monaghan series that she writes, and the two books that I read were all right, but not books that I felt I had to read. I prefer her stand-alone books, which are much darker and, I think, show more sophisticated writing. I’ve been glutting myself on her stand-alone novels this past year, and sadly I finished the last one I had not yet read last week, To the Power of Three.
She has a new title coming out later this summer, And When She Was Good, and it’s not part of the Tess Monaghan series. Yay! I’m heading to BookExpo America (BEA) next week, and I’m hoping that they have advance reading copies of it. Please, please.
In the last two books that I’ve read, she’s really tapped into the complex world of female relationships, rivalry, and aggression. In What the Dead Know, two sisters, Heather and Sunny, disappear from a mall. They’re presumed dead until thirty years later, a woman appears claiming to be the younger of the sisters. The seed for this Lippman novel is based on something that actually occurred in real life, and she plays on ideas of memory and how faulty and personal each person’s is, telling something more about who’s narrating the memory than the event itself.
In To the Power of Three, Lippman follows three girls, the popular clique, from elementary school through high school, which leads up to the violence that erupts between them just before they graduate and are ready to start their lives. I really think she gets the dynamics of high school right here—the power plays and shifting loyalties that occur in those four short years that seem so long.
These two books share some secondary characters—a pair of police officers—and of course, they take place in Baltimore, the setting for all of Lippman’s books. The best thing about her books is that I can never, ever guess the ending, and once the mystery is revealed the rest of the book holds together. In crime fiction, there’s nothing more disappointing than a crappy ending that makes the rest of the story—something you may have been enjoying for 300-plus pages—fall apart. Lippman always gets it right, but besides giving the reader a suspenseful, satisfying ending, she one-ups it by leaving you with something to ponder about the human condition.
Now, where she gets those insights—that’s interesting. I was looking for interviews of Lippman on YouTube, and I found a few clips of her from the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. It makes me so happy that she’s a favored writer on a late-night talk show, and when she sits down together with Ferguson and they natter on about their favorite first lines, I wish that I was there. During one of their chats, Lippman mentioned that she was mildly sociopathic. When she was working at the Baltimore Sun, she was convinced that her bosses were making her crazy. To prove that she was the one who was crazy, they sent her to a psychologist who administered the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory test. After tallying the results, the psychologist mentioned that she scored high in the sociopathic category—not as much as a full-blown sociopath would, but significantly high enough to comment upon. The psychologist believed that she purged a lot of these aggressive tendencies through her writing. This explains so much! I think I recognize this in myself and a lot of other writers that I know.