If you look through this blog you might deduce that I have become a Laura Lippman fan. I've enjoyed tracking down her early work and filling in the history of her detective character, Tess Monaghan and reading her occasional forays into other branches of fiction.
Life Sentences is her newest book and now I am all caught up and will have to wait for her to finish the tedious process of writing another book before I can gobble it up in a weekend.
This is not a Tess Monaghan story. Lippman has created a new central character, Cassandra Fallows, a writer, successful with her first two books, both memoirs, who has tried writing fiction for her third book and met with severe criticism from the critics. She has returned to Baltimore for a visit, making a few stops on her book tour and checking in on her aging parents. She runs across a decades old crime story which, mirable dictu, involves one of her elementary school classmates and decides that her next book will be about this person, her school days and her old friends.
Life Sentences deviates from the crime novel pattern just a bit. Cassandra wants to answer some of the unanswered questions about the mysterious disappearance of her schoolmate's child, as related in a short TV news piece she caught on a local Baltimore station, watching in her hotel room, but nobody ever gets arrested. There are no murders, no criminals are brought to justice. Eventually, no book is written about it. Cassandra Fallows is welcomed back to her home town when she declines to profit from it's dark secret.
Lippman has always made Baltimore the core of her writing. I am not from the city, I live on the Eastern Shore and mostly see Baltimore on the local TV news, yet I find her use of the city and it's environs to be one of the most attractive parts of her writing. In this case the Eastern Shore plays a larger than usual role. I've been to Bridegville Delaware, know Denton fairly well and have traveled the back roads of Kent Island, all of which are ground covered by the characters in Life Sentences.
Being a writer, doing a book tour, getting panned by the critics and mining your home town, your friends and family for material are what this book is about - keeping in mind that this is fiction. The title is a reference to the central character's Sisyphean task of writing endlessly about her past. Perhaps Lippman is feeling a bit Sisyphean herself after writing fifteen books set in her lifelong home.