Sunday, December 30, 2007

Book Review: What the Dead Know

The worst thing about finishing a really great book is the looming dread of starting another. Do you know what that's like? Or is it just me? It may be a short high, but I just finished What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman, and it was awesome.

I've never been a reader. All of my life my parents and sister were readers - the types who stay up into the night reading and reading and reading. I was a sleeper. Ten minutes of reading and the tell-tale signs of sleep - bobbing arms and eyes - began and slowly gave way to exhaustion. Sure, I read on occasion, most notably The Hardy Boys (which I preferred to Nancy Drew), or later, Christopher Pike's teen mysteries, but I was never a real reader.

So as an adult I decided that my vocabulary could use some improvement, and my mom always credited a good vocabulary to good reading. In addition, our generation is a TV generation, and as much as I love my TV, even I could see that some separation was required. So... I started reading. I'm not sure what I read initially... maybe John Irving. Over the life of this blog, I have commented many times about my love for John Irving's writing. It's so rich. So well written. I've read nearly all of his books with exception to a few of the early ones that I just couldn't get my brain around. After Irving, I read a few 'popular' books, most notably Memoirs of a Geisha. I truly loved this book, and completing it was so satisfying. I've often explained that I've rarely enjoyed a book like I did Geisha. It opened new doors for me in that I discovered memoirs. Not biographies... to me those are far too tedious... but memoirs. Over the last few years I have read quite a few, and I have come to the conclusion that memoirs are my favorite type of reading. Either memoirs... or novels that read like memoirs. It's those short, yet detailed snippets of people's lives - real or imagined - that pulls me in.

I digress. So when I was home in Ohio for the holiday, I started on Laura Lippman's What the Dead Know. I wonder if one reason that I stayed in so much during my visit is because I wanted to read her book. I'm not sure... but I had to stop reading it for a few days when I came back to Baltimore because there was so much to do. Yesterday I decided that my computer issues must be a sign to step back from technology for awhile and read, so I unplugged the dying desktop and picked up the book again. I finished it this evening, and once again, that strong feeling of satisfaction came over me as I read the final page. Now THAT was a good book.

What the Dead Know is a mystery of sorts, or what people nowadays call a 'crime novel,' and these are generally not what I like to read. Mysteries tend to be too surface to me, kind of like old Columbo TV shows. I absolutely loved Columbo, don't get me wrong, but as much as you loved him, the other characters were all really surface. No depth. It's as if they have their own histories, but the viewers are only given access to the details that aid the storyline in an obvious way. But Laura Lippman's novels are so rich. I supposed I am partially biased, because there is a sense of pride in knowing the streets and landmarks she mentions in her books. I love Baltimore, and it's exciting to read about local places in her stories. But it's more than that, too. Whether or not it is essential to the outcome of the story - the why or the how - her characters have an exquisite depth that so many other books lack. For instance, in What the Dead Know, Miriam's self reflection, or her insecurities, if you will, are not necessarily pertinent to the mystery itself, but it allows the reader to feel closer to her. That vulnerability helps us to understand her pain and her struggle, which lends itself later when the drama unfolds. I don't think many writers have the foresight to know how these details early on will affect the overall reader experience. It's genius.

I hate to go on and on any more about the book because it is a mystery and you should just go read it yourself. I haven't read all of Laura Lippman's books yet (although I think Cheryl might have - haha), but I have to believe that this is her best to date. Every Baltimore reader should have this book on their list without question. Congratulations, Laura. This book hit the Charissa jackpot.


Blogger cherylann said...

Indeed I have read all of her books! hahaha. I really liked this book too.

I know you're not much into the crime thing (like me), but try some Dennis Lehane novels. Shutter Island is probably the best book I've read all year. Gone, Baby Gone is a good book too. I like reading a lot of certain authors books when they use recurring characters for the fact that we do get to know the characters on deeper levels.

For THE best book I've ever read... pick up Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet. It's a long one, but you won't be able to put it down!

Happy New Year!

December 31, 2007 3:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am going to look up Cherlyann's books - I haven't read those.

Here is my new favorite The Thirteenth Tale: A Novel By Diane Setterfield
and an old favorite - even though you may shun it because of the title and maybe even the premise - The Clan of the Cave Bear - it really is a more the story of a woman surviving the near impossible and a litte fun and sex too. It was a must read in the 70's when it came out and every woman I was friends with read it - way fun.
I am a library girl - I go there when I free time and feel like I am surrounded by old friends. The books I have read and the authors that wrote them. What a treasure. Some very deep and probably important person once said, "When you have a book you are never alone."
I'm good with that.


December 31, 2007 8:06 AM  
Blogger Ashlie said...

I'm going to have to read it!

Have a great New Years!

January 01, 2008 1:39 AM  

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