Synopses & Reviews
Thirty years ago two sisters disappeared from a shopping mall. Their bodies were never found and those familiar with the case have always been tortured by these questions: How do you kidnap two girls? Who or what could have lured the two sisters away from a busy mall on a Saturday afternoon without leaving behind a single clue or witness?
Now a clearly disoriented woman involved in a rush-hour hit-and-run claims to be the younger of the long-gone Bethany sisters. But her involuntary admission and subsequent attempt to stonewall investigators only deepens the mystery. Where has she been, why has she waited so long to come forward? Could her abductor truly be a beloved Baltimore cop? There isn't a shred of evidence to support her story, and every lead she gives the police seems to be another dead-end a dying, incoherent man, a razed house, a missing grave, and a family that disintegrated long ago, torn apart not only by the crime but by the fissures the tragedy revealed in what appeared to be the perfect household.
In a story that moves back and forth across the decades, there is only one person who dares to be skeptical of a woman who wants to claim the identity of one Bethany sister without revealing the fate of the other. Will he be able to discover the truth?
"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.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"What the Dead Know, like the best books in this tradition, is doubly satisfying. You read it once just to move breathlessly toward the finale. Then you revisit it to marvel at how well Ms. Lippman pulled the wool over your eyes." Janet Maslin, New York Times
"Though her ending is a bit of a stretch in this latest offering, the compelling plot and vivid characters prove the author well worthy of honors bestowed." Booklist
"This standalone mystery featuring recurring characters is as heavy on the portrait of one Baltimore family as it is on the whodunit. Lippman fans are most likely to be pleased." Library Journal
"[A] story of achingly real characters and deep emotional resonance, an intense psychological study of loss....[B]y venturing out in such a bold new direction, Lippman has not only expanded the frontiers of genre fiction, she has also enriched the body of American literature." Philadelphia Inquirer
"Lippman has burnished her storytelling skills and the elegance of her writing to a new level....Lippman has cemented her new standing as a literary novelist who just happens to work in the mystery genre." Cleveland Plain Dealer
"You don't have to be a mystery lover to appreciate it, a moving portrait of a family's private grief during a public tragedy....Lippman pulls you to the end with an exquisite twist." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"What the Dead Know
, which takes its title from Ecclesiastes, is a particularly well done puzzle by a true pro. While clever readers may be able to guess the mystery woman's identity, that won't detract from the book's considerable enjoyment. (Grade: A-
)" Yvonne Zipp, The Christian Science Monitor
(read the entire CSM review
From the "New York Times"-bestselling creator of the Tess Monaghan series comes a pulse-pounding, stand-alone mystery in which a disoriented woman claims to be one of two sisters abducted from a mall 30 years ago.
Thirty years ago, the two Bethany sisters, ages 11 and 15, disappeared from a Baltimore shopping mall. They never returned, their bodies were never found, and only painful questions remain. How do you kidnap two girls from a busy mall on a Saturday afternoon without leaving behind a single clue or witness? Now, decades later, in the aftermath of a rush-hour hit-and-run accident, a clearly disoriented woman is claiming to be Heather, the younger Bethany sister. Not a shred of evidence supports her story, and every lead she reluctantly offers takes the police to another dead end—a dying, incoherent man; a razed house; a missing grave. But there is something she knows about that terrible day . . . and about a family that disintegrated long ago, torn apart by an unthinkable tragedy and the fissures it revealed in a seemingly perfect household.
About the Author
Laura Lippman grew up in Baltimore and returned to her hometown in 1989 to work as a journalist. After writing seven books while still a full-time reporter, she left the Baltimore Sun to focus on fiction. She is the author of eleven Tess Monaghan books, including Baltimore Blues, Another Thing to Fall, and The Girl in the Green Raincoat; five stand-alone novels, including Every Secret Thing, To the Power of Three, What the Dead Know, and Life Sentences; and one short story collection, Hardly Knew Her. She is also the editor of another story collection, Baltimore Noir. Lippman has won numerous awards for her work, including the Edgar, Quill, Anthony, Nero Wolfe, Agatha, Gumshoe, Barry, and Macavity.
Reading Group Guide
Questions for Discussion
1. Laura Lippman withholds a lot of information in the early going of the book. Is that a cheat, or true to the way the characters would have approached the information?
2. Lippman actually used historically accurate details in the book Escape to Witch Mountain and Chinatown, for example, were the films at that movie theater at that time, and the story about the freak blizzard in '66, the rise of the home answering machine in the 1980s. But do those details add something above and beyond historical accuracy?
3. Who in this book could be described as evil, if anyone? On the morning in March that all these people's destinies collide and interlock who's really at fault, if anyone?
4. Is Miriam a "bad" woman? Does she see herself as bad and believe that she is being punished for her misdeeds? How does Lippman want us to regard Stan Dunham as Miriam does, or as Sunny does, or somewhere in-between?
5. What is Kay's role in the book? Is there any significance to the fact that she's reading Jane Eyre?
6. Why are Dave and Miriam so restless in the days before their daughters disappear? What are they wistful for? What do they regret?
7. Dave and Miriam choose very different ways of mourning their daughters. Dave enshrines the memory, choosing to vary almost nothing about his life, while Miriam flees, ultimately choosing to live in a place where no one can possibly know about the tragedy. Is Lippman suggesting that one way of mourning is more valid than the other? Is Dave's misery proof that he's made a mistake, or simply evidence of his own conflicted nature?
8. The five-fold path, which Dave practices, includes self-knowledge as its ultimate goal. Who in What the Dead Know attains self-knowledge? Who never quite gets there? Does self-knowledge necessarily involve change, or can one find peace even in a flawed self?
9. At one point, Nancy Porter notes that "Heather Bethany's" story is least convincing when it's at its most lurid. The ultimate fate of the Bethany girls turns out to be almost banal, a series of mistakes and accidents that led to a tragedy no one planned. Is the fate of the Bethany girls more or less disturbing as a result? Does it seem like something that really could happen?
10. The last line of the first chapter dwells on how freeing it is to say one's name (p. 10). The last line of the book says one's name is the most important word that anyone can ever hear (p. 373). The missing Bethany girl has had a number of names throughout her life and even her mother, Miriam, has availed herself of a slight name change, reverting to her maiden name, which feels like a new name because it's pronounced differently in Spanish. Do names matter so much? Why? How do our names shape our destinies?
11. At the end of the book, Kevin Infante reflects that the missing Bethany girl has always been out in the open, the kind of woman that other people observe, but don't truly see a student, a store clerk, a support person in the office. What is Lippman trying to say about certain women in our culture? Who is it that we don't see, who fails to register in our day-to-day lives?