What is the most dangerous thing in the woods? Well, you might just be surprised by the answer to that one.
For a while, Gwen, Mickey, and the three Halloran brothers are inseparable. Together, the five youngsters explore the woods around their Baltimore suburb while remaining safely out of the sight and minds of their three sets of parents. Surprisingly, even teens Sean and Tim Halloran are content to follow the lead of tomboy Mickey as she steers them deeper and deeper into the woods. Their reckless younger brother, known to everyone as Go-Go, is just happy to be allowed to tag along with his big brothers and their friends.
Although the five of them, like children everywhere, cannot imagine anything bad ever happening to any of them, they understand that some secrets are best kept from worrying parents – and they almost get away with it. Then, deep in the woods one day, they stumble upon the man they will come to call “Chicken George.” What happens next will change all their lives forever – even the lives of their parents.
The friendships between the children - and between their parents -are effectively ended by what happens the day things go wrong in the woods. None of them feel comfortable in the presence any of the others ever again because of the terrible secret they now share, the lies they tell to keep that secret hidden, and their suspicion that someone is hiding the real truth about what happened.
The last thirty-two years have not been particularly kind to the former friends, all of whom are now middle-aged and living rather troubled lives of their own. None of the five are particularly happy, although they have managed, for the most part, to forget what happened in the woods all those years ago. But when one of the five dies suddenly in a car crash, the others gather for his funeral where they will finally be forced to confront the past they share.
Lippman uses flashbacks to reveal the events of that fateful day and the emotional impact what happened had on the children and their parents. Reluctantly sharing memories and feelings for the first time in decades, the four survivors soon begin to wonder if one of them plans to reveal their long hidden secret. Is that what caused one of them to take his life?
Laura Lippman fans will probably be a little surprised by The Most Dangerous Thing because it is a change-of-pace of sorts and, although there is a “mystery” here for the reader to ponder, this one is as much a character-study as it is a mystery. In order to illustrate the long-term impact that one spur-of-the-moment decision can have on a person’s life, the author recounts the lifetime of regrets, poor decisions, and uncontrollable weaknesses subsequently experienced by each of her main characters.
To do so, Lippman uses a literary device I have seldom encountered. Sections of the book are written in the first person plural voice – which sometimes had me wondering which of the characters were actually speaking to me. While this “group voice” does set an unusual tone for the novel, it tended, often as not, to distract me from the actual plot, and I never got comfortable with it.
Lippman is definitely offering her longtime fans something a little different this time around.