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What The Dead Know: A Novel [Paperback]

Laura Lippman
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 2 2009
One of the most acclaimed and honored writers in the field of crime fiction, Laura Lippman offers readers a gripping tale of deception and delusion, of family wounds and betrayals.

Thirty years ago, the Bethany girls, ages eleven and fifteen, disappeared from a Baltimore shopping mall. They never returned, their bodies were never recovered, and only painful questions remain. Now, in the aftermath of a rush-hour hit-and-run accident, a clearly disoriented woman is claiming to be Heather, the younger Bethany sister. Not a shred of evidence supports her story, and every lead she reluctantly offers takes the police to another dead end -- a dying, incoherent man; a razed house; a missing grave. But she definitely knows something about that terrible day -- and about the shocking fissures that the tragedy exposed in the foundation of a seemingly solid family.


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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Edgar-winner Lippman, author of the Tess Monaghan mystery series (No Good Deeds, etc.), shows she's as good as Peter Abrahams and other A-list thriller writers with this outstanding stand-alone. A driver who flees a car accident on a Maryland highway breathes new life into a 30-year-old mystery—the disappearance of the young Bethany sisters at a shopping mall—after she later tells the police she's one of the missing girls. As soon as the mystery woman drops that bombshell, she clams up, placing the new lead detective, Kevin Infante, in a bind, as he struggles to gain her trust while exploring the odd holes in her story. Deftly moving between past and present, Lippman presents the last day both sisters, Sunny and Heather, were seen alive from a variety of perspectives. Subtle clues point to the surprising but plausible solution of the crime and the identity of the mystery woman. Lippman, who has also won Shamus, Agatha, Anthony and Nero Wolfe awards, should gain many new fans with this superb effort. 9-city author tour. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–After fleeing a car accident, a middle-aged woman with no ID is questioned by both the police and hospital administration. Refusing to reveal her identity (and proof of health insurance), she instead hints that she is the younger of two sisters, Heather and Sunny Bethany, who disappeared the day before Easter in 1975. This gets everyone's attention. She knows both too much and not enough about the case, leading Baltimore police on wild goose chases to Pennsylvania and Georgia, saying just enough to stay out of jail and keep them interested, albeit suspicious. The narrative threads unravel into the various accounts of that Saturday's events, the aftermath of the disappearance, the investigation, and Heather's own increasingly desperate attempts to evade further disclosure. This novel is a page-turner. Tantalizing revelations are dropped at chapter ends before veering into another part of the narrative, back and forth in time. Characters are well defined and varied, each with a different perspective on the nature of grief. Ultimately, after all of the half-truths and deceptions are played out, unexpected but moving forgiveness wins out.–Jenny Gasset, Orange County Public Library, CA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A STORY THAT HAUNTS March 20 2007
By Gail Cooke TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
On Easter weekend in 1975 two sisters disappeared. Eleven year old Heather Bethany and her 15-year-old sister, Sunny, had gone to the mall, Security Mall, and vanished without a trace although there would be rumors, "...sightings of the girls as far away as Georgia, bogus ransom demands, fears of cults and counterculturists. After all, Patty Hearst had been taken just the year before. Kidnapping was big in the seventies."

Time passes, some thirty years, and a woman flees the scene of a traffic accident. Later she's found wandering, apparently deranged, without any money or identification. She's taken to St. Agnes Hospital, checked in as a Jane Doe because if she knows who she is she refuses to say.

Thus begins Edgar Award winning author Laura Lippman's riveting story about a family, once a strong, loving unit or were they?

Detective Kevin Infante is dispatched to the hospital to question the mysterious woman. He doesn't go eagerly as Infante is a tough cop, cynical, a memorable character who views the world and many of its inhabitants with a jaundiced eye. When the woman still refuses to speak his solution is to send her to jail.

Kay Sullivan, the social worker at St. Agnes, is the one person who befriends the woman, and when the woman says, "I'm going to say a name. It's a name you'll know," Kay is convinced Heather Bethany has surfaced after some three decades. But Infante doesn't believe this for a minute.

How to prove whether she is Heather or not? The police decide finding the mother of the Bethany girls is their only hope. But, would a mother recognize her daughter after this length of time?
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By Salina
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Kept me wondering until the end. Author didn't drop clues in storyline so that reader could have same ah ha moments as characters.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A well-written and intelligent whodunit Oct. 27 2007
Format:Paperback
I was sucked in by the intriguing opening and good writing. Good to the last page.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing! Sept. 6 2009
Format:Mass Market Paperback
This is a truly engaging read, starting off a bit slowly, but definitely intriguingly.

A short synopsis: Baltimore, 2005. A woman is found leaving the scene of a car accident, without identification and with a few superficial wounds. When questioned by the police, she claims to be "one of the Bethany girls", who had both vanished into thin air some 30 years before from the local shopping mall. At the time, the two sisters were 15 and 11 respectively. Both long presumed dead, nobody quite believes this strange woman, who refuses to get into details but seems to know quite a lot about the case. Could she really be who she claims she is?
After the disappearance all those years ago, the careful investigation, the wrong leads, after the last flicker of hope to find the sisters alive had faded away, it seems impossible that one of the girls has resurfaced. And where is the other sister? What on earth happened? This and many other questions will keep the reader on the alert.
We are taken back and forth from the time of the disappearance to the present day, through the eyes of the various main characters, including the girls' parents, shattered and overwhelmed by the tragedy.

This is not an edge-of-the-seat mystery novel, but it is a pager-turner nonetheless. I think that the author's ability to make the reader as frustrated with the identity of this woman as I was, combined with important revelations that keep coming up when you least expect it (so much so that more than once I had to re-read a passage for I could not believe I read it correctly the first time) well, Ms. Lippman's technique speaks for itself. Intriguing and engaging up until the end, well done! My rating: 4.5 stars.
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Overly Contrived Story April 21 2007
By Donald Mitchell #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Two sisters head for the mall on an afternoon. They disappear. Thirty years later, a woman runs from a traffic accident and tells a police officer that she's one of the missing sisters. That sounds like a great premise doesn't it? Actually, the premise is the only great thing about this book. What the Dead Know quickly goes downhill after the opening sequences.

For me, a suspense novel doesn't work unless the tension realistically simulates what might have occurred. As I read this story, I realized that Ms. Lippman had to go to great lengths with her assumptions in order to make the plot work. When I realized how contrived the story was, I lost interest. I felt like I had been conned rather than entertained.

I won't point out all of the extreme contrivances (I don't want to spoil the story), but here are a few to think about:

How many pairs of sisters aged 11 and 15 haven't had any cavities or broken bones?

How many times have two similar-appearing sisters been adopted into the same family?

How likely is it that a child wouldn't ever contact her parents after having problems?

Here's what I think really happened with this book. Ms. Lippman remembered the dual disappearances of the Lyons sisters from around Wheaton Plaza in 1975 (as she discloses in the Author's Note) and wanted to make up a story that could explain such an occurrence.

If that's what happened, that's a disservice to the Lyons family and to Ms. Lippman's readers. It would have been better to write a nonfiction book about the Lyons tragedy . . . or to write a more plausible novel based on another story idea.

I also didn't find the characters to be especially interesting or sympathetic. Further, much of the back story wasn't very relevant or interesting either.

So why did I decide to read this book? I read good reviews about it.

I recommend you skip What the Dead Know.
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