I just finished Laura Lippman's latest (how's that for alliteration?) and what a stunner! _Every Secret Thing_ is a stand-alone novel, not part of the Tess Monaghan series, and it's more of a "portrait of a community" sort of a book than an outright mystery, although it certainly has a strong mystery driving the plot. I'd hesitate to say "breakout book" because I think she broke out long ago, but as I read, I couldn't help but compare the experience to that of reading Dennis Lehane's _Mystic River_, which I still firmly believe is one of the best American books of the last ten years. And I do think that _Every Secret Thing_ is on par with that book.
The story is narrated from multiple viewpoints, including those of a pair of now teenage girls, just released from juvenile detention after serving seven-year sentences for their parts in the kidnapping and death of a baby, the granddaughter of a locally-famous black judge. Ronnie Fuller and Alice Manning have had their lives irrevocably changed, and when another child of mixed race disappears soon after their return home, the girls become prime suspects, after their names are leaked to the press and to the police. At first, we feel sympathetic toward poor Alice, the "good" girl whose life was ruined by the inexplicable actions of the "bad" Ronnie, but as the story goes on, our sympathies are drawn more and more to Ronnie as the secrets of what happened seven years before, and what is happening now, are revealed.
Set in Baltimore, the story is as much about developing character studies of the girls, their families, the police, the press, and so forth, as it is about solving the mystery. The book also presents a portrait of the racism and divisions inherent in society, not just black vs. white, but rich vs. poor, and so on. There are great passages about the struggles faced by homicide detective Nancy Porter, who found the dead baby many years ago and who is now assigned to the new investigation, that are worthy of _Homicide: Life on the Street_ or _The Wire_. Lippman draws deft portraits of both Sharon Kerpelman, the public defender who feels she failed Alice in the earlier case, and Mira Jenkins, the reporter who sees this story as her chance to "move downtown." And Cynthia Barnes, the mother of the murdered baby, is a fully-shaded character who sees the possibility to get some sort of revenge on the girls, who she feels should have been tried as adults.
This is a gripping story, full of tension and emotion. It has moments of sadness and moments of humor. It's a great book by a great writer and I'd be surprised if it isn't nominated for the major awards in the field this year. Very highly recommended.
When I picked up "Every Secret Thing," by Laura Lippman, I expected nothing more than a formulaic novel about child abductions. Much to my surprise, this book turned out to be a deeply psychological page-turner with marvelously descriptive writing, dry humor, and intricate plotting. Now that I have finished the book, the highest compliment that I can pay to Ms. Lippman is that she reminds me of the great British novelist, Ruth Rendell. Why? Rendell has never been satisfied with the standard whodunit formula. She likes to examine the unexplored dark corners of the human psyche and the mystery is not always the centerpiece of her books. The people are.
"Every Secret Thing" begins with a tragedy. A little girl named Olivia Barnes is kidnapped and, several days later, she is murdered. Two eleven-year-old girls named Ronnie Fuller and Alice Manning are charged with the crime, and they spend seven years in juvenile detention facilities. When they are released, Ronnie and Alice are young women of eighteen. Before long, when another little girl named Brittany goes missing, Ronnie and Alice are once again under suspicion.
There are so many things to praise about this book that it is difficult to pick one, but above all else, the character development is uniformly outstanding. We get to know each major and several minor characters intimately, as if they were our own neighbors. Lippman gives us a glimpse into the minds of Ronnie and Alice, two unhappy and lonely misfits with a tenuous grip on reality. We become well acquainted with Helen Manning, Alice's narcissistic and foolish mother, Nancy Porter, the cop who found Olivia's body and has been haunted by the case ever since, and Cynthia Barnes, Olivia's bitter and grieving mother whose life is devoted to seeing Alice and Ronnie destroyed. That the two girls responsible for killing Olivia should be set free to walk the earth is simply not an option for Cynthia, who has powerful political connections and is used to getting what she wants.
As the story unfolds, a tale of psychological horror emerges that is truly chilling. When I turned the last page, I knew that I would be thinking about this book for some time to come, marveling at how Lippman mines so many themes so effectively, and how she makes us care deeply about the outcome of her story. Don't miss this unforgettable thriller.
on November 25, 2008
Ms. Lippman is a talented writer that is capable of taking you along for a ride.
I appreciate a good plot twist as much as anyone, but when this novel ended I felt like I had been duped. (I am not the type that necessarily tries to solve the mystery as I am reading, so yes, it is possible to suck me in.)
It seems that Ms. Lippman used her talent to play on the reader's sympathies. I walked away from this book feeling like I had rooted for the wrong team.
While I won't deny the author's skills as a novelist, this was not a feel-good experience.
On a constructive note, I would suggest Lippman's "What the Dead Know". While WTDK is not entirely uplifting, it is a twisting novel that succeeds in creating some sense of resolution and reconciliation in the end.
on September 4, 2003
The Last Place knocked my socks off as the best Lippman book yet. In comparison to Every Secret Thing, it's Lippman's second best book (and best Tess). Every Secret Thing is a whole new level of writing for Lippman. Every Secret Thing is dark, exploring, questioning, and powerful. Some Tess fans may be disappointed by the tone of this book -- it may be darker than they prefer -- but they won't be disappointed by the quality of writing or the story. It's not Tess, *and* it is still very, very good. I thought about this book for a long time after I read it.
on October 19, 2003
"Every Secret Thing" is Lippman's first standalone novel, a thriller dealing with children who commit crimes, the reasoning behind their criminal behavior, and the adults they ultimately become.
Alice Manning and Ronnie Fuller are convicted at the age of 11 of murdering a small child, who is the granddaughter of a powerful black judge in their community. They are incarcerated in separate juvenile facilities for seven years, then released with warnings to stay away from each other. Ronnie, who has always been looked upon as the "bad girl," tries to engage herself in as normal a life as she can have. Alice, on the other hand, always considered the "good girl" who was simply following Ronnie's lead, seems to be content to stay at home or take long, mysterious walks. Shortly after their return, small girls begin to disappear for short periods. When a young interracial girl is kidnapped, the police begin to focus their investigation on Ronnie and Alice.
With the Tess Monaghan series, Lippman has become known for her witty dialogue and realistic characters, but "Every Secret Thing" proves her ability to delve into more complex, darker characters. Her portrayal of Alice's mother is fascinating, as well as her depiction of the former, then present, mental states of Alice and Ronnie. She weaves past with present as she tells the story of what happened with the baby Alice and Ronnie are accused of murdering. A fascinating look at a dark subject and a book which proves Laura Lippman is an author who herself stands out.
on August 18, 2015
This was an amazing read. The characters were very well-developed and the story had enough twists and turns to keep me really interested the whole way through. I'm anxious to see the movie version - although it doesn't take place in Baltimore. Considering this book was written in 2004, what we're seeing in the news today regarding Baltimore shows that not much has changed in the city; I find that sad. I loved Ronnie and I don't know if I was supposed to, but I felt for her, my heart broke for her - I felt she had so much to offer. The flip side of that coin, of course, is how I felt about Alice...and I didn't like her at all...not as an 11 year old, not as an "adult."
This book is good - I would put it up there with other favorites in the genre such as "Gone Girl" and most of Gillian Flynn's books. This was MUCH better than "Girl on the Train" in my opinion and I don't usually choose this genre.
I loved this book.
on April 20, 2015
I was really in the mood for a mystery, and the synopsis of this one really appealed to me.
This book is about two girls, Ronnie and Alice, who committed an unspeakable crime when they were 11 years old. Their actions resulted in the death of a toddler and they were both sentenced to time in juvie. Seven years have passed and they have been released from their respective juvenile detention centers at the start of the novel. A short time later, a 3-year-old girl goes missing.
To say much more would give away too much. This is definitely a book that you wouldn't want to know very much about before reading it for yourself. The novel took a few surprising twists and turns, but there were no real mind-blowing shockers.
I don't have an issue with police procedural shows, movies, or books. I really enjoyed those aspects of this book. But the character development, even with the detectives, seemed forced to me. None of the characters really had a whole lot of depth or originality, they were all fairly one-dimensional. There were also several auxiliary characters that I didn't find to be completely necessary. I thought it would have been better had the book just followed the detectives, Alice, and Ronnie. The author seemed to have spread herself too thin trying to incorporate all of the various characters with their various storylines. It just seemed like kind of a mess at times.
As I said, I was surprised; which is what I want from a mystery novel. I would prefer to have my mind blown by the author, but that isn't always the case.
on August 7, 2009
In reading Laura Lippman in the order of her published books, one of the things that's stood out is the difficulty she was still having as of 2003 in finding her own voice. Her Tess Monaghan stories, a bit better than average as detective fiction goes, have nonetheless read too much like Philip Marlow TV knock-offs with a young female character. I take Every Secret Thing as an attempt to try a new tact. Unfortunately, and I mean that in the sense of this reader's frustration, she fails with Every Secret Thing.
This is the sort of book that will appeal to many, just like many Hollywood movies that tug on familiar news topics with emotional strings do. Narrowing that a bit, there's a generational angle to that tug, with the book organized around individual's social and psychological stories weaving in and out of narrative focus; a child or two's kidnapping; a couple of police detectives, one female, bumbling along, in the end succeeding in spite of themselves though absent any logic for doing so; a kniving reporter; and a major dose of victim's rights, treated cynically for well over 300 pages until achieving vindication and a touch of celebration in the end. Those who recognize much of this as embodying post-Vietnam 'Me Generation' themes and styles will do well to look elsewhere for their next read. The main story line is thin and preposterous, the chapters 75% filled with detail that's extraneous to the story and not particularly interesting in itself (380 pages could have been 180 or less), many of the characters' thinking and actions don't make much sense or are inadequately explained or justified, etc.. Just as in the Tess Monaghan series, Lippman takes narrative short cuts and can help her own literaty self-indulgences, but in this case without the air of substantive legitimacy that those typically aspire to. Readable, but not recommended.
on September 26, 2014
Two eleven year old girls are asked to leave a birthday party after one of them gets angry and accidentally hits the birthday girl’s mother. They are allowed to leave without a ride home and without any adult supervision. On their way home, they spot a baby in a carriage, unsupervised, outside the closed door of a house. The girls take the baby and later say that they took the baby to protect it and keep it safe. The problem is that the baby is dead. Did one of the girls kill it, or both, or did it die naturally of SIDS? Only the girls know the truth and they blame each other. Seven years later, babies are going missing again. Is it one or both of the girls, just recently home from juvenile detention, as the mother of the deceased baby thinks, or is it someone else?
Every Secret Thing is a really good mystery with lots of twists. Some of the twists I anticipated in advance, but others took me by surprise. It is told through a variety of the characters’ views, sometimes switching from one to another too fast for my taste, but it does add more detail to the story. I hate to say it, but I didn’t really like any of the characters in Every Secret Thing, but I’m not sure Lippman wants the reader to like them. I did kind of like the detective, Nancy, but she wasn’t really well-developed enough to gain much investment from me. I didn’t trust either of the two girls, and I really didn’t like the mother of the baby that was killed in the beginning. She just seemed self-important, judgmental, and bossy. Alice’s mother seemed odd, and I wasn’t sure what to think about Alice’s lawyer, but I didn’t really like her either. The reporter obviously didn’t care about anyone other than herself and I never understood what had caused her to become stuck at such a low-level position to begin with. Despite the character issues, Every Secret Thing keeps you guessing, making you question what you think you already know. It had me racing to the end to find out if my suspicions were accurate or not. It was a thrilling ride and I was itching to know what the truth really was.
I recommend this one, with just a little complaint that the character POV change was too abrupt at times. You can read more of my reviews at http://bookwormbookreviews.com
on August 25, 2015
I wasn't sure where this book was heading, it kept me glued to the story almost against my will. The subject matter was kind of torture for me, very frightening, because I have little girls. But the writing was exceptionally good. The delicately drawn character of Helen and of Cynthia Poole is fascinating. Very few writers can pull off the very believable depth of such characters the way that Laura Lippman does in this novel, especially with so many characters portrayed so completely all within the same plot. This is my second Lippman novel, I'm excited to read more of her work. I've read that people describe her books as being much more than mystery novels, and I entirely agree. However, I can't remember another novel that kept me so intrigued until the very last word. And I still feel interested in the characters, I still have unanswered questions. I highly recommend this book.