Book Review: Sunburn by Laura Lippman

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.

Buy the book here…

Review: Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman

9780571321759I’ve reached the point now with Laura Lippman novels where I don’t even read the blurb anymore, I just know I’m going to love them no matter what. I vaguely knew this new book was about an attorney so I had it pegged as a possible legal thriller but of course with Laura Lippman it is way more than that. In fact at times the crime/mystery central to the story isn’t even apparent but you don’t care because Lippman builds such rich characters and story that you are already simply engrossed.

Lippman’s latest novel focuses on one family. Lu Brant, is the newly elected State Attorney for Howard County, Maryland; following in the footsteps of her father, despite everyone always assuming it would be her brother, AJ, that would take this path. She is determined to make her own name in the job and takes on the first case her office receives with gusto,despite it not being one that will be in the headlines. But as she prepares for a relatively straight-forward trial Lu’s family’s past begins weighing on her mind, with startling revelations.

As always Lippman builds the story perfectly, seamlessly blending together Lu’s story in the present with her memories growing up. You almost get so lost in Lu’s backstory that you forget about the impending trial of the present, so rich is the narrative Lippman weaves. There is a strong Harper Lee essence as Lu recounts the story of her and her brother growing up with their State Attorney father. But every family has its secrets and the true heart of this story is how we bury those secrets in our memories and how it only takes one strand to be pulled loose for the narrative of our own life to be turned upside down.

This is Laura Lippman once again at her absolute best; able to lose you so easily in the narrative but also keep you guessing all the way to the surprising end.

Buy the book here…

Boomerang Book Bites: Hush Hush by Laura Lippman

This novel is everything Laura Lippman has been doing so well in her standalone novels but this time with Tess Monaghan. Lippman takes a confronting but tragically all too familiar crime and explores the fallout, years later, for all those involved. Combined with the ups and downs of parenthood this is not only a page-turning addictive mystery but an exploration of motherhood and the lengths, good and bad, mothers will go to for their children.
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Review: Hush Hush by Laura Lippman

hush-hushI am not a fan of long running crime series. While a recurring character can be like a familiar friend sometimes the longevity of a series means it falls into the realm of incredulity. Tess Monaghan was a character I fell in love with but was also quite happy when she was put on the back burner. Added to this is the fact that the stand-alone novels Laura Lippman started writing were truly exceptional and amazingly got better and better which meant Tess wasn’t too badly missed (although she did pop up from time to time in these stand-alone novels).

This is the 12th Tess Monaghan book but only the third one since 2008 (one of which was a novella). While I was not overly excited to see Tess return I was still keen to read as it had been a long while since last she appeared. And I have to say I did miss her. Not only was it great to have her back and refamiliarise with her sense of humour, appetite and life but I think this is one of the best Tess Monaghan novels yet.

The last we saw of Tess she was pregnant and not enjoying it. We catch up with Tess three years later. Tess is balancing her life as a PI with her three-year old daughter Carla Scout and her de facto husband’s bar. Like all working families Tess’s life is in fine balance that is constantly tilted by the life of a toddler. Laura Lippman captures this balancing game brilliantly and Tess, despite a severe lack of confidence in herself, is perfectly suited for it.

Tess gets a case which she thinks is going to be perfect for paying the bills. A wealthy but controversial woman has returned to Baltimore from overseas. 12 years previously she gave custody of her two daughters to her husband after being found not guilty in the death of her third daughter by reason of insanity. She has returned to try to be a part of her now teenage daughters’ lives and to make a documentary film. Tess has been reluctantly hired to assess her security arrangements. A soft gig she takes despite misgivings about the woman’s intentions. But when strange notes begin being left for the woman and then quickly escalate Tess must try to put aside her own judgements to discover the truth. A truth no one wants to confront.

This novel is everything Laura Lippman has been doing so well in her standalone novels but this time with Tess Monaghan. Lippman takes a confronting but tragically all too familiar crime and explores the fallout, years later, for all those involved. Combined with the ups and downs of parenthood this is not only a page-turning addictive mystery but an exploration of motherhood and the lengths, good and bad, mothers will go to for their children.

Buy the book here…

Review – After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman

9780571299676Laura Lippman delivers another absorbing thriller that sucks you in with vivid characters and great plotting. Inspired by a true story of a Baltimore mobster who went missing in the 1970s while under house arrest, Lippman does what she does best, sees a side to the story more interesting than the headline, the people left behind.

Felix Brewer had it all; a beautiful wife, three wonderful daughters and money, via a successful numbers racket. But when it finally came time to face the music, in 1976, Felix ran, leaving everything and everyone behind including a host of unanswered questions. And another woman.

The story jumps from 2012 back to 1959 and slowly comes forward. In 2012 a cold case is reopened by retired city homicide cop Roberto ‘Sandy’ Sanchez. Felix’s girlfriend, Julie disappeared in 1986. Everyone assumed she had gone to join Felix. However her body turned up 15 years later and now her murder, like Felix’s disappearance, remains unsolved.

Through the alternating storyline we get to know the people Felix left behind. His wife Bambi, his daughters Linda, Rachel and Michelle, his best friends Burt and Tubby and his girlfriend Julie. We see the impact his disappearance had on their lives and the jealousies that festered between them all.  We also start to learn the secrets, half-truths and lies that have been built around them. Protecting them, shielding them and ultimately betraying them all.

Laura Lippman is the master of this kind of storytelling. Not only does she create intricately built, suspenseful mysteries but she totally absorbs you with wonderfully realized characters each of whom is coming to terms with their place in an ever-changing world. Each of whom bears a responsibility for what has happened but all of it ultimately stemming from being left behind.

Buy the book here…