Tuesday, June 19, 2007

What the Dead Know

When the Bethany sisters disappeared from Baltimore's Security Mall during the Easter weekend of 1975 no one expected that their disappearance would remain a mystery for decades. Of course, when the girls were not found in the first few days, it became more and more likely that only their remains would be returned to Miriam and Dave Bethany. But even that didn't happen.

What the Dead Know is a fine suspense novel that focuses on how this unsolved mystery impacts the lives of those left behind, especially Dave and Miriam, the parents who find that their separate grieving processes put a tremendous strain on an already shaky marriage. After a few years, Miriam reconciles herself to the fact that she is unlikely ever to see her girls again but Dave refuses to give up hope that they will be returned to him. Miriam begins to see Dave as someone too weak to get on with the rest of his life. Dave starts to believe that Miriam is just not as good a parent as he is and thinks less of her because she seems to him to have so easily moved past the family tragedy.

And then one day the impossible happens. A woman passing through Baltimore hits an oil slick on the freeway, causing her to lose control of her vehicle just long enough to force the SUV in the next lane to roll. In a panic the driver abandons her car and tries to walk away from the accident. When stopped and questioned by a Baltimore policeman, she tries to divert his attention from the accident by claiming that she is Heather Bethany, the younger of the two girls who have been missing since 1975.

But is she? If so, where has she been all this time and why is she only now coming forward to end the decades old mystery of her disappearance. "Heather" is unwilling to provide the answers to any of the questions that the Baltimore police want to ask her and Detective Kevin Infante does not believe that she is who she claims to be. What is she hiding?

Author Laura Lippman has created a suspenseful mystery that will keep the reader rapidly turning pages in anticipation of finding the answers to all of those questions. Lippman, who lives in Baltimore, has won several crime fiction awards, including the Edgar, and she is best known for her series of Tess Monaghan crime novels. But this "stand alone" novel is my first experience with her writing and it leaves me with one question about her style. I found Lippman's habit of referring to her policeman characters as "a police" to be distracting, and eventually, a little irritating. She never calls them "a cop" or a "policeman." It's always "a police." I've never seen that done before and I wonder if that's the way that Baltimore cops refer to themselves or if Lippman has created this term on her own. She uses it so many times in the novel that she obviously prefers it, whatever its source.

Rated at: 3.5


  1. Well, I mention it, you comment on it and here's the review! The premise of the book is really what has me intrigued. Sounds like you enjoyed it pretty well. I think the whole "a police" thing would bug me as well. Stuff like that is just a little weird.

  2. I'm leaving in the morning for KY, Matt, and the book is due before I return (more than 30 other people have it on hold) and I need to return it today so I read this one straight through, allowing no other books to distract me.

    I was intrigued with the "mystery" of who this woman was going to turn out to be.

  3. Thanks for the review--I think the NY Times reviewer liked it, too. The premise sounds really interesting. That "a police" thing would bug me, too. But I'll probably read the book anyway ;)

  4. It's a good book, gentle reader, aside from that one little quirk of speech. I'd really like to know the story behind that way of putting it because, so far, no one else has encountered it before.

    You'll enjoy it.

  5. Sounds good, Sam. I love a good mystery!

  6. It was fun, Jenclair. I hope that you enjoy it if you decide to give it a read.

  7. Ijust found your blog today. I was trying to remember what this book was about. I read it when it first came out. For me, referring to the police as "a police" was so seriously distracting I found it a little hard to enjoy the book. Of course, that's probably because I have worked in law enforcement for over 20 years and never heard a cop referred to that way.

    Anyway, like you, I love books, collect books, and listen to country music. I enjoy many of the same authors you have listed as favorites.

  8. Thanks for stopping by with the nice words, Syndi. Since we have so much in common, I hope you'll stop by again because I'd love to hear from you.