Life Sentences by Laura Lippman
Finished: Apr. 22, 2009
First Published: Mar. 10, 2009
Reason for Reading: I received a Review Copy from Harper Collins Canada.
"Well," the bookstore manager said, "it is Valentine's Day."
Comments: Cassandra Fallows, author of two memoirs and one novel, travels back to her Baltimore neighbourhood to research her new book. Her first memoir centred around the lives of her middle class white family and that of her three best friends who are black and of mixed financial backgrounds. There was a fifth black girl on the outskirts of her group of friends whom Cassie never really paid any attention to but it has just now been revealed to her that this girl was questioned in the death of her infant son and then spent seven years in jail for contempt for pleading the fifth and has never uttered one word about her missing, presumed murdered son. This is what Cassie wants to base her new book on and as she travels home she finds that no one from the past wants to talk about that incident. It seems she has come to uncover a secret so big that many people have been silenced for what very little they do know and no one wants to open those doors again. But while unraveling other families secrets Cassie finds herself face to face with a secret from her very own family's past which she has not known of and must face before she can face anyone else's secrets.
I really enjoyed this book. I've read one other Lippman book and it was not a stand-alone as this one is. I had expected this to be a mystery but, in fact, I would not classify it as such, nor would I call it a thriller, crime or even a suspense. It is much more akin to what I think of as Southern Fiction (with the eccentric characters and the race relations) but being set in Baltimore takes that option away. What we have here is really non-genre fiction. A story of people, a select group of people, and how a secret affected their lives.
Lippman is wonderful at characterization. There is a big company of players in this book and the main characters are fleshed out, fully realized with full backgrounds and flawed human beings. The secondary characters are less developed but they certainly consist of an eccentric cast. While the plot mainly focuses on Cassandra and her life and relationship with her parents and friends from the past, often including passages from her published book of memoirs, the tracking down of the girl who grew up to possibly kill her own son forms a cohesive plot that pulls the whole together and gives an enjoyable mystery to solve with a satisfying ending, for this reader. But other readers looking for a traditional mystery may not find the ending quite so satisfying. Not having read many Lippman books I can't say whether this book is typical or not of her stand-alones but if you are looking for a traditional mystery/thriller/crime book this is not the book you are looking for. However, if you are looking for a compelling read with an intriguing plot that includes a secret to unravel then by all means you'll have found your book with Life Sentences.
P.S. I can't help but mention that I just love the cover of my edition!