“We aren’t us anymore,” one of the focal characters of Laura Lippman’s newest stand-alone thriller, The Most Dangerous Thing, thinks of her childhood clan. “Maybe we never were.”
Many of us can recall a time and a group of friends that seems to symbolize our childhoods, to represent those years forever—no matter how long they lasted or how they ended. For the Halloran brothers—Tim, Sean and Gordon (aka Go-Go)—and two neighborhood girls, Gwen and Mickey, that time was short but vivid. Kids still ran freely in the 1970s, and these five spent long hours exploring the wooded park near their Baltimore homes. As they began to mature, Gwen and Sean paired off. With Tim focused on school and a future scholarship, smart-but-reckless Mickey and impulsive young Go-Go spent more time in the woods, some of it with a reclusive man who lived in a shack, played the steel guitar and disappeared for months without explanation.
Then one night in 1979, in the midst of a hurricane, a tragedy simultaneously united and divided the five. No one individual knew the whole story, but what they did know, they kept to themselves, and they drifted apart.
Now, more than thirty years later, Go-Go, the youngest at 40, is found dead. Accident or suicide? After his death, the secrets of the past resurface, and the remaining four are thrown together again. Tim and Gwen, separately, learn facts that compel them to search for the truth, both past and present. Tim, Sean, Gwen and Mickey must confront the past for themselves, deciding what to do about it now, and how that knowledge will reshape their memories and influence the future. Lippman’s series character, private investigator Tess Monaghan, makes a brief appearance.
Lippman writes with confidence, using shifting point of view and even a section in second-person plural that captures perfectly that time of childhood when children are not yet fully conscious of themselves as individuals rather than as part of a group. She portrays the shifting sands of adolescent sexuality and relationships with insight and compassion, although Mickey’s revelations may unsettle some readers.
Lippman’s novels have won every major mystery and crime fiction award. They are less about crime, though, than about cause and effect: what we think we remember, and what memories mean to us. After you read The Most Dangerous Thing, you will not think of your own childhood in quite the same way.
Leslie Budewitz’s reference for writers, Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law & Courtroom Procedure(Quill Driver Books) is just out.