I have been a fan of Laura Lippman for ages and have read every book she has written and I can say without a doubt that this is the best novel she has ever written. This book was getting incredible industry buzz in the six months before publication. Those who were lucky enough to have read it early were raving and I must admit to a lot of impatience waiting to get my copy. But it was worth the wait as Sunburn is one of those rare gems where the book is even better than the hype surrounding it.
The “buzz” genre of the past few years has been known as “domestic noir”. Gone Girl, Girl on the Train to name but a few. There has been a myriad of copycats, never of course as good as the original blockbusters. But “domestic noir” is not a new genre. Noir has been around for decades and the best noir has always had a domestic setting. All that has been reinvented in the last few years is the added “domestic” marketing tagline and “girl”, never “woman” in the title. Born out of The Depression in the 1930s and lead by the likes of James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett these stories have captured both readers and movie audiences ever since and it is probably no surprise the genre is having a revival in the ten years since the GFC.
Laura Lippman is no stranger to noir. Her writing career started with the brilliant Tess Monaghan PI series and the noir tradition is constant through her even better stand alone novels. But with her new book she dials the classic noir up to 11. She isn’t reinventing noir or even modernising noir. In Sunburn she shows how good noir can be and in doing so has written the undoubted thriller of the year.
Sunburn has all the elements of classic noir: a woman on the run from her husband, a rugged PI on her trail, an insurance scam, blackmail and of course murder. Lippman sets this classic concoction in the small town of Belleville where the two protagonists of the story meet and fall for each other hard. But they both have their secrets. Secrets others know. Secrets others might use against them. Secrets they have to protect. As the lies and distrust start to chip away at their new found love it can only lead to one thing: trouble.
While Laura Lippman has all the classic elements of great noir it is her characters that make this book so outstanding. Polly and Adam are so well drawn you are immediately on both their sides and are left second guessing each of them when they start to mistrust one another. The small town setting is also wonderfully evocative as well as equally claustrophobic and the sense of place Lippman creates not only adds to the drama but also stokes it. Inspired by James M. Cain the only thing that could have made this novel more noir would have been chicken and waffles on the town bar’s menu.
Nobody writes suspense thrillers like Laura Lippman and this is the best book she has ever written.