RogerBW's Blog

Every Secret Thing, Laura Lippman 03 April 2015

2003 suspense. Seven years ago, two eleven-year-old girls stole a baby, which died; maybe one of them killed it. Now they're out of juvenile detention… and a young child has gone missing.

This is Lippman's first novel outside the Tess Monaghan series, and it's a distinct change of pace. Those books, when they work well, are hymns of praise to the city of Baltimore, the bad and the good and the whole glorious mess of it; they tell stories that couldn't happen anywhere else. This one isn't like that. It isn't even a mystery, since key information is simply withheld until it's explicitly revealed; there's no puzzle-solving here.

In fact it feels unlike those other books and a lot more like The Wire. Through the eyes of a variety of characters – the two girls, the mother of one of them, a public defender, a homicide detective, the mother of the murdered baby, a reporter – we see the progress of the investigation and of the public perception of it. It rapidly becomes clear, though, that all these people are essentially out for themselves first, and will think of anyone else only in the context of advancing their own goals.

Sharon cared about Alice, she announced often, a note of pride in her voice. Sharon's pride was what kept Alice from returning her affection. Sharon could not think so well of herself for sticking by Alice unless sticking by Alice was a weird thing to do.

The two girls, Alice and Ronnie, and Alice's mother Helen are very well-drawn; the others don't do as well, tending to one-note portrayals. Slightly more interesting is that all the characters are female; men are largely absent from this story, at least in roles of any significance, though several of the viewpoint characters have male bosses.

Unfortunately Lippman seems to get carried away with these narratives, bringing in more and more extraneous detail at greater and greater length. Because any sympathy for anyone has been carefully removed (Lippman's a competent writer and I assume this must have been deliberate), I at least found myself bogging down in the descriptions of people I didn't really care about, trying to do well by taking advantage of other people's problems.

I wouldn't recommend this book, and especially not as an introduction to Lippman; go to Baltimore Blues for that. The exception would be if you're the sort of person who likes minute descriptions of the actions and psychology of unpleasant people.

(Addendum on 16 April 2015: this has been made into a film.)

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