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I’D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE by Laura Lippman: Book Review

Not a traditional mystery, not exactly a thriller, I’d Know You Anywhere is a fascinating psychological study of the aftermath of a crime.  Laura Lippman, master storyteller in both the Tess Monaghan series and stand-alone novels, examines life “before and after” the kidnapping of a fifteen-year-old girl more than twenty years before the novel opens.

Elizabeth Benedict is walking along a country road when she comes across Walter Bowman, just a few years older than herself.  Within a couple of minutes he manages to drag her into his truck and drive off with her.  Elizabeth will turn out to be the only girl who survives Walter’s abductions.

All Walter wants is a girlfriend. He’s good-looking, muscular, has green eyes, but yet he can’t seem to attract any girl at all.  But he keeps trying.  He picks up girls on lonely roads, has a few minutes of conversation with them, realizes they’re not interested and are afraid of him, sexually assaults them, and kills them.  It’s not really his fault, he assures himself; if only one had agreed to be his girlfriend, his search would be over and he wouldn’t be forced to keep looking for others.

The novel opens as Eliza (the name she took after her abduction) and family return from several years in London–her husband, Peter; their teenage daughter; and their younger son.  It’s a typical American family living in the suburban Washington area, made even more typical by their visit to a local pound to get a dog.  But only Peter knows Eliza’s history.

Shortly after Eliza’s return to the States, she receives a letter that Walter has written. It’s been forwarded to her by a friend of his, Barbara LaFortuny, who is a vehement opponent of the death penalty.  Walter has been on Virginia’s death row for twenty-two years, a record in that twice he made it as far as the death house, only to receive last-minute reprieves.  Now with Barbara’s aid he reconnects with Eliza, first by writing to her and then by getting her to agree to be on his phone call list.  Walter has a powerful motive–as his only surviving victim, her help will be invaluable in commuting his death sentence once again.  He’s due to be electrocuted the following month, and this time it looks as if the sentence will be carried out–unless he can persuade Eliza to do his bidding.

The novel switches voices many times. First it’s the grown woman Eliza, then the twenty-something Walter, then the teenage Elizabeth, then Barbara, then the inmate Walter.  Adult Eliza would like to put this all behind her, as she has been successful in doing up to this point; teenage Walter wants some girl, blond, slim, and beautiful, to be his girlfriend; teenage Elizabeth wants to placate Walter in order to stay alive; Barbara wants to force Eliza to help commute Walter’s death sentence to life imprisonment; inmate Walter wants to live.

As always, Laura Lippman has written an outstanding novel. Has Eliza’s attempt to keep her past private colored her entire adult life?   Should she agree to be in contact with her kidnapper?  Has Walter ever understood the damage he did to her, as well as to the girls he killed?  Has Barbara’s own experience in being the victim of a crime given her insight into the justice system or simply moved her rigidity from her private life into a more public forum?  The novel asks these questions but leaves it up to the reader to answer them.  Or not.

You can read more about Laura Lippman at her web site.

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