What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman: B

From the back cover:
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?

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?

On a mystery level, this book succeeds. Initially one believes in the claims of the disoriented woman, but as the story is revealed, and subsequent details come to light, doubt creeps in. The story is well-paced, unpredictable, and makes sense, even with the jumping about in time. I found myself taking slightly longer routes home just so I could hear more of it and was not disappointed in the conclusion.

The characters are more of a mixed bag. The Bethany family itself—daughters Heather and Sunny and parents Dave and Miriam—were by far the most defined. Significant time is spent on showing them before the abduction and also on the relationship of the parents afterwards. In some aspects, I was reminded of The Lovely Bones, as it deals similarly with a family coping after the disappearance of a daughter.

The present day cast—the detectives, the social worker, the lawyer—involved with determining the veracity of the woman’s story are more nebulous, some of them downright flat. I sincerely hated the primary detective, Kevin Infante. He’s incredibly crude, profane, and misogynistic.

What the Dead Know is ultimately worth reading. It was never boring, and though I never mustered any particular care for any of the characters, I enjoyed the suspenseful plot. I don’t see myself reading it again or acquiring my own copy, but I’d probably read more by this author.

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