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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Edgar-winner Lippman, author of the Tess Monaghan mystery series (No Good Deeds, etc.), shows she's as good as Peter Abrahams and other A-list thriller writers with this outstanding stand-alone. A driver who flees a car accident on a Maryland highway breathes new life into a 30-year-old mystery—the disappearance of the young Bethany sisters at a shopping mall—after she later tells the police she's one of the missing girls. As soon as the mystery woman drops that bombshell, she clams up, placing the new lead detective, Kevin Infante, in a bind, as he struggles to gain her trust while exploring the odd holes in her story. Deftly moving between past and present, Lippman presents the last day both sisters, Sunny and Heather, were seen alive from a variety of perspectives. Subtle clues point to the surprising but plausible solution of the crime and the identity of the mystery woman. Lippman, who has also won Shamus, Agatha, Anthony and Nero Wolfe awards, should gain many new fans with this superb effort. 9-city author tour. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–After fleeing a car accident, a middle-aged woman with no ID is questioned by both the police and hospital administration. Refusing to reveal her identity (and proof of health insurance), she instead hints that she is the younger of two sisters, Heather and Sunny Bethany, who disappeared the day before Easter in 1975. This gets everyone's attention. She knows both too much and not enough about the case, leading Baltimore police on wild goose chases to Pennsylvania and Georgia, saying just enough to stay out of jail and keep them interested, albeit suspicious. The narrative threads unravel into the various accounts of that Saturday's events, the aftermath of the disappearance, the investigation, and Heather's own increasingly desperate attempts to evade further disclosure. This novel is a page-turner. Tantalizing revelations are dropped at chapter ends before veering into another part of the narrative, back and forth in time. Characters are well defined and varied, each with a different perspective on the nature of grief. Ultimately, after all of the half-truths and deceptions are played out, unexpected but moving forgiveness wins out.–Jenny Gasset, Orange County Public Library, CA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reissue edition (February 10, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006177135X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061771354
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (499 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #191,888 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Laura Lippman was a reporter for twenty years, including twelve years at The (Baltimore) Sun. She began writing novels while working fulltime and published seven books about "accidental PI" Tess Monaghan before leaving daily journalism in 2001. Her work has been awarded the Edgar ®, the Anthony, the Agatha, the Shamus, the Nero Wolfe, Gumshoe and Barry awards. She also has been nominated for other prizes in the crime fiction field, including the Hammett and the Macavity. She was the first-ever recipient of the Mayor's Prize for Literary Excellence and the first genre writer recognized as Author of the Year by the Maryland Library Association. Ms. Lippman grew up in Baltimore and attended city schools through ninth grade. After graduating from Wilde Lake High School in Columbia, Md., Ms. Lippman attended Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her other newspaper jobs included the Waco Tribune-Herald and the San Antonio Light. Ms. Lippman returned to Baltimore in 1989 and has lived there since.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

201 of 214 people found the following review helpful By Tom S. on March 15, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is one of the finest suspense novels I've read in years. Lippman is always terrific, whether she is writing her Edgar-winning Tess Monaghan series or stand-alone crime novels, but this book is exceptional, even by her high standards. Inspired by an actual incident, WHAT THE DEAD KNOW is a brilliant examination of old crimes and their present consequences.

In 1975, two teenage sisters disappeared from a Baltimore shopping mall, and their fate was never determined. Now, thirty years later, an emotionally unstable woman claims to be one of the missing sisters. Her story has a lot of holes in it, and the search is on for the truth of what happened on that long-ago day. Lippman brings just the right Gothic/Noir touches to her masterful tale, slowly building the tension until it is almost unbearable. Don't miss this haunting, beautifully written novel. Highly recommended.
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72 of 76 people found the following review helpful By Bookphile VINE VOICE on August 29, 2007
Format: Hardcover
There's no question in my mind that Lippman is a very talented author. This book grabbed me pretty much right from the beginning and I could hardly wait for her to dole out the bits and pieces of information that led to the big picture of the whole story. However, while the pacing was good and her characters were very vivid, I did not care for the ending and didn't find it all that realistic.

The character who stood out the most for me was Heather. Though she is ostensibly the victim, she is not a sympathetic character. She's such a narcissist that I was really turned off by her. I found it feasible that someone who'd been through such an ordeal could emerge with this type of psychology but I found Heather really appalling and distasteful at times. This was actually rather refreshing to me and I think it gave the story more resonance than a tearful, weepy, and really "victimlike" victim would have. She was compelling in a rather creepy way. This considered, though, I didn't find what ultimately happened to her in the end to be convincing.

Another weakness of this novel was that the police seemed to me to be a bit stereotypically portrayed. Kevin was far too much of a two-dimensional character and, for that reason, I didn't find him very interesting. The womanizing policeman with a history of failed marriages has been done to death and it would have been more interesting to me had Kevin been more unexpected. Lippman does deliver somewhat with Kevin's female ex-partner but this character doesn't get a lot of pages, which is disappointing. I think the novel would have been even better had she been the lead on the case.
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47 of 51 people found the following review helpful By nobizinfla on April 18, 2007
Format: Hardcover
In "What the Dead Know," Laura Lippman displays her literary flair and stylistic genius in a tightly woven, hypnotic, highly intelligent adventure.

In 1975, two sisters vanished without a trace from a Baltimore mall. It was a dead end crime---no reliable witnesses, no clues, no leads, no hope.

Thirty years later a hit and run driver (with no ID) claims to be Heather Bethany (one of the sisters).

She has knowledge that only the sisters would have. As the story shifts between the decades, between fact and fiction, between imposter and the genuine article; detective Kevin Infante (a wonderful character) feels something about "Heather's" story is out of kilter.

The skeptical Infante is unconventional and uses good old-fashioned shoe leather to track down clues, hunches and intuition. His efforts lead him to believe Heather may be one a half dozen identities---or maybe all of them, or none of them.

The three-dimensional characters are caught up in loss, redemption, scrambled identities, in this evocative tale of intrigue.

Filled with pop culture touchstones from the different eras, this powerfully suspenseful crime story, seamlessly spooled out from various points of view will leave you sleep deprived.

Laura Lippman is an uncompromising novelist who is dazzling at hiding clues in plain sight. She creates a morass of deception where the details are as important as the narrative.

"What the Dead Know" is subtle, shrewd and so tightly plotted you cannot afford to skip a page.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Linda Bulger VINE VOICE on June 3, 2008
Format: Audio CD
It was a parent's worst nightmare. Sunny and Heather Bethany disappeared from a Baltimore mall in 1975 and no real trace of them was ever found. Now thirty years later a disoriented woman walks away from a motor vehicle accident and claims to be one of the Bethany sisters.

Author Laura Lippman built a story spanning the thirty years, moving back and forth in time and bringing the characters to life. Sunny, fifteen, and Heather, eleven, are realistic and well-delineated. Their parents, Miriam and Dave, survive the loss in very different ways. The present-day mystery woman is abrupt and secretive, not likable and not easy to know. While two of the characters seemed to me to be somewhat stereotyped, the rest had the kind of realistic loose ends that only a good writer can create.

What the Dead Know feels like a novel rather than a suspense novel, if you care to make that distinction. There is a great deal of beautifully written back-story and some readers may think it's extraneous to the plot line, but the narrative conveys a vivid sense of time and place that is its own reward. The bonus I found in this book is the way Lippman wrapped it all together into a surpisingly well-supported ending.

Recently I've read several books in which the narrative moves back and forth along the time line of the story. I'm a little wary of that structure but Lippman handled it beautifully.

I listened to the unabridged CD version of this book and found the performance by Linda Emond to be very effective. While I prefer a book in print, this is one audio presentation I can recommend enthusiastically. I'll definitely be reading more from this fine writer.

Linda Bulger, 2008
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