Laura Lippman continues to outdo herself.
After an entertaining (but pedestrian by recent standards) standalone in The Lady on the Lake, she again finds the form she had in Sunburn. I don’t know yet which is better but I know I liked them both a lot.
While I guess it’s somewhat of a mystery, this book is a horror, with transparent shades of Stephen King’s Misery. And yet, Lippman is able to make it a work all of her own by taking the piggish perspective of Gerry, the writer, and tilting it just slightly on its axis to know that this guy, for all of his self-pitying, is a Grade A jerk who has something coming to him. We just don’t know what yet.
Some of the twists will inevitably disappoint but again, you’re not reading this book for the twists. It’s all been done before. It’s how she tells the story. And she tells it so well; a steady, literary hand bringing new life to old tropes.
Inevitably, the reader will wonder why they should stay invested in Gerry’s character when he’s so unlikable. I think this book is a good litmus test for my theory that I don’t care of a character is likable or not, I care about whether or not I should emotionally invest in them and the story that’s being told around them. For Gerry, it was a resounding “YES!” Even if I didn’t like him, I still wanted to know what happened to him. The pay off is worth it but even if it wasn’t the build up is suspenseful enough.
And while this is technically a horror book, Lippman subtly but persistently notes that the real horror is the world we live in and what it does to women. How they are manipulated and exploited by men, even average men like Gerry, for negative ends.
If you read the Tess Monaghan series, I’m not sure you would expect Lippman to become the author that she has. Proof positive that writers can evolve from familiarity if they work hard and have talent.