Laura Lippman


"To the Power of Three"

(Reviewed by Eleanor Bukowsky NOV 16, 2006)

"What did Ronnie tell her grown-ups---her parents, the handsome man with the shiny blonde hair and the suit with the funny name? Seersucker, Alice's mom had said, looking at the blonde man in the hallway. Seersucker. Alice knew, from her mother's voice, that this was a good thing, as good as classic or vintage, even exquisite. What did Ronnie tell Mr. Seersucker, what did he believe when it was all done?

But that was one thing that Alice never knew, never could know, and still did not know almost seven years later when she was released by The Sate of Maryland for her part in the death of Olivia Barnes."

In To the Power of Three, Laura Lippman explores the long-standing friendship of Perri Kahn, who is smart and talkative with a flair for the dramatic, Josie Patel, a budding natural athlete, and Kat Hartigan, a kind, good-natured, and popular beauty. The three have been together for years and they will soon be graduating from Glendale High School and going off to college. However, on their last day of school, one of the girls brings in a gun and tragedy ensues. Who pulled the trigger and why? Was this school shooting an accident or a case of premeditated murder? Detective Sergeant Harold Lenhardt has the thankless task of questioning the survivors and trying to come up with answers to these and other troubling questions.

 

In her earlier novel, Every Secret Thing, Lippman demonstrated an uncanny ability to dig into each character's psyche and expose each character's innermost thoughts and feelings. The author does so again in this thorough exploration of how Perri, Josie, and Kat are influenced not only by one another, but also by their parents, their peers, and society at large. Lippman lays out the girls' stories in a series of flashbacks going back to the third grade. As the years pass, and the girls grow physically and emotionally, circumstances change and their formerly solid bond begins to weaken. Normal rivalries for the lead in a school play, academic honors, and a spot in a top college all take on tremendous importance and rational behavior goes out the window.

At over four hundred pages, To the Power of Three is a bit too long and repetitious, and, after an enormous buildup, the ending is a bit artificial and anticlimactic. Still, there is much to admire in this gripping story. Lippman beautifully fleshes out all of her primary and secondary characters. Besides the lead roles played by the aforementioned trio, there is Dale Haritgan, Kat's upwardly mobile and smothering dad, Alexa Cunningham, a guidance counselor with an inflated view of her ability to read teenagers, and Peter Lasko, a good-looking and charismatic former student at Glendale High who once dated Kat. Peter comes back to visit his hometown one last time before appearing in an important movie role. Eve Muhly is a pretty girl from a "redneck" background who doesn't fit in with the popular kids, and she may be withholding key information about the shooting from the authorities.

Sgt. Lenhardt is a fascinating individual in his own right. He is happily married with two children, and what he discovers about teenagers terrifies him. He wonders how he will ever survive his own daughter's adolescence. Lenhardt knows that not all of his witnesses are leveling with him, and he begins to doubt that he will ever learn the whole truth about what actually happened on the day of the shooting.

To the Power of Three demonstrates that Laura Lippman is one of the best writers of psychological mysteries at work today. She beautifully captures the atmosphere of a Baltimore suburb, with its pettiness, snobbery, and dark secrets. Lippman skillfully describes the big and small moments in the lives of both the youngsters and the adults in her large cast. She depicts families that are splintering and others that are intact, the economically privileged and those who struggle to make ends meet, the admired few as well as the ones on the lower end of the social scale. In this unforgettable novel, Laura Lippman paints an indelible picture of an average American town in which every youngster supposedly has an opportunity to be all that he or she can be. Unfortunately, human nature gets in the way and spoils everything.

  • Amazon readers rating: 3.5 starsfrom 48 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from To the Power of Three at HarperCollins

(back to top)

"Every Secret Thing"

(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer SEP 07, 2003)

"What did Ronnie tell her grown-ups---her parents, the handsome man with the shiny blonde hair and the suit with the funny name? Seersucker, Alice's mom had said, looking at the blonde man in the hallway. Seersucker. Alice knew, from her mother's voice, that this was a good thing, as good as classic or vintage, even exquisite. What did Ronnie tell Mr. Seersucker, what did he believe when it was all done?

But that was one thing that Alice never knew, never could know, and still did not know almost seven years later when she was released by The Sate of Maryland for her part in the death of Olivia Barnes."

Ronnie and Alice were completely different people...Ronnie was rough, spoke what she thought before she could allow what she was saying to actually register, and Alice was extremely cautious, wanting to be popular, wanting everything orderly. It was Alice's mother, the retro-queen artist, who wanted them to hang out together. Ronnie started an embarrassing fight over a present, and was expelled from the party. Because they had come together, Alice had to go too. On the way home the girls see a baby in an expensive carriage parked next to the street, seemingly abandoned. What seems like a girlish, innocent thing...to take care of a baby they are convinced is abandoned...becomes murder, and the girls spend the rest of their youth in prison, freed when they turn 18.

Read excerptCynthia Barnes, the baby's mother, is angered at the fact these two girls are allowed to live normal lives after what they did to her Olivia. When another little girl turns up missing, one that looks astonishingly similar to Cynthia's new baby, Cynthia works in the background against them, convinced that they've struck again. Detective Nancy Porter and her partner Kevin Infante are brought on the case, and of course Ronnie Fuller and Alice Manning have to be questioned. Ronnie runs at the first sight of them, scared, while Alice's attempts at being helpful are more mystifying than anything else. The girls had the first baby four days before it died...and so the clock is ticking, loudly, to discover the reason why the girls did what they did to baby Olivia, and hope to unravel the mystery of what has happened to Brittany before it's too late.

This story is told in a fashion that is both haunting and riveting. Lippman has a way with prose that's captivating, creating some truly evocative and heart wrenching moments. We see the story through several sets of eyes. Ronnie is a little fragile, trying to get on with her life. She works at a bagel place, keeps to herself. Alice is the good girl to Ronnie's bad, she walks and obsesses over the past; like her mother, Helen, who got pregnant from a simple affair and decided to raise her daughter herself. But Helen tries to be beautiful and interesting and filled with life, something that does not always go with Alice's desire for order. Nancy is the only daughter of a family of cops before her, and she made her name by finding Olivia's body, and now she must go back to that nightmare time in order to find Brittany. Nancy is a strong character, seeking approval (despite the fact she knows better) from her Sergeant, trying to balance being a great detective with being a wife. The moments when she basks in her superior's approval, then seems embarrassed by it, feel very real. Through these different eyes we see all the parts of the story come together. We see a tragedy that, in the end, is greater than even what happened to poor little Olivia.

I speak of how evocatively Lippman writes. There are some pieces of prose in here that are absolutely magnificent. The following is found close to the end of the book, and maybe you have to read the whole story for it to really hit you, but even now it moves me. Let me set it up for you... Ronnie, who you really get the feeling has nothing to do with this latest disappearance, goes over to Alice Manning's house for answers. Alice is gone, but her mother Helen is there and Ronnie has always desperately admired Helen. Here's what they say:

"Ronnie turned to go, then remembered what she had been longing to ask Helen since she came home. "Helen--do you remember the honeysuckle?"

"You mean..."

"The time I tried to make honeysuckle soda and sell it from a stand, like lemonade?"

Some strange emotion flooded Helen's face, her voice. "Of course I do, Ronnie. Of course I do. You tried to squeeze the juice from the blossoms into a pitcher of sugar water."

"It tasted awful. And I picked your vines bare. But you didn't mind. You weren't mad at all."

"It was a good idea," Helen said. "There should be a honeysuckle soda. You always had good ideas, Ronnie."

"I did?"

"You did baby. You absolutely did."

Not only is this passage prettily done, it symbolizes much of what Lippman is trying to do...she makes these people very real, and I spent much of the book feeling so much empathy toward Nancy and Ronnie, and even some toward Alice, even though we start out pretty much knowing right away that these latter two committed a heinous act, one that even 11-year-olds should have known better than to commit. Everyone's life is a tragedy, in some ways, not just Cynthia, who can't get over her daughter's death (completely understandable) to the point where she feels guilty if she gives her living daughter any extra attention, if she forgets Olivia for a moment, but everyone involved in this... everyone's life was changed forever.

Lippman has truly crafted a real, moving, gripping story...you will not be able to put it down until every secret thing is revealed.

  • Amazon readers rating: 4 starsfrom 42 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Every Secret Thing at MostlyFiction.com



(back to top)

Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

Tess Monaghan series:

Standalone Novels:

 

(back to top)

Book Marks:

 

(back to top)

About the Author:

Laura LippmanLaura Lippman was born in Georgia and raised in Baltimore. After getting a degree in journalism from Northwestern University, Laura held several reporting jobs before joining the Baltimore Sun where she was a newspaper reporter for fifteen years. Her Tess Monaghan novels have won the Edgar, Agatha, Shamus, Anthony, and Nero Wolfe Awards. Every Secret Thing won the 2004 Anthony Award.

She lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

MostlyFiction.com About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014 MostlyFiction.com