Phew boy this novel. I know that Laura Lippman’s non-Tess books get raked over the coals a little, and sometimes this is unfair. I think the last two books are pretty good. This book, however, commits the sin of trying really hard and falling short. It’s also not a fun book remotely, and a lack of fun and especially a lack of humor (at all, here) really means your book has to nail the complicated parts because there’s nothing to cushion the firm parts at all.
We begin with a recovering alcoholic having a drink at a local bar. It’s not a full tilt relapse into drinking and the book indicated this. Gordon is around 40, in a failing marriage and is reeling from something. After leaving the bar, he gets into his car, drives along the highway and crashed headlong into the concrete barrier. We jump from here to Gwen, also in a failing marriage, returning home to stay with her father who has recently fallen and broken his hip. She finds out about Gordon’s death, and we learn that she, Gordon, his two brothers, and another girl used to hang around a lot as kids one summer, something really bad happened, and we’re meeting them again now all in their 40s.
The novel keeps moving back and forth among the past and the present and we get the slow reveal of the different stories, including that uncomfortable sense of someone in middle age figuring out that their parents were also making similar choices at this age, when they happened to be kids. The mystery here, as there is one, relates to that question of what was Gordon thinking in his final moments, what really happened in the past, and how will it affect the present.
Like I said, this book tries so hard, and flops so repeatedly. The seriousness hampers it, and so a repeated need to use homophobic slurs, keep bringing up sexuality and it not really going anywhere, and a refusal to leave some old habits from previous books alone.