‘…who has the gun, where is the gun–‘ Sunburn, by Laura Lippman

July 30, 2018 at 9:23 pm (Book review, books, Mystery fiction)

When’s the last time you read a crime novel  set in Delaware?

This may have been a first for me. Be that as it may, that’s where we find ourselves in Sunburn. Polly (Pauline) Costello has fled the beach retreat she was sharing with husband Gregg and three-year-old daughter Jani. She hasn’t gone far: just inland to the town of Belleville. As she sits on a bar stool in a restaurant oddly named High-Ho, she is noticed by Adam Bosk. There’s an instant attraction, but only on his part – at first.

These two have plenty of secrets, but Lippman reveals them gradually and obliquely. It’s a good technique for hooking the reader, and I was duly hooked. More  characters enter the scenario, but the spotlight remains firmly fixed on Polly and Adam. As is invariably the case with Lippman, these characters are real and believable. No one is completely good or irredeemably bad. The core truth of what’s really going on stays hidden for a long time, though, and the outcome remains uncertain right up to the end.

I had an interesting moment when I read this description of Polly Costello: “Her figure’s pretty good, but she has that narrow, foxy look common to redheads.” Suddenly Polly’s image materialized very precisely in my mind. For me, anyway, it was an extremely telling passage. Here’s another one that resonated.  Adam is  reminiscing tenderly about his mother and father:

How he misses his parents, those sad, sweet hippies who ate macrobiotic, smoked dope, and died before they were sixty – a heart attack for him, a stroke for her – because some people do everything right and still don’t catch a break.

I don’t ordinarily like  fiction written in the present tense, but in this novel it worked beautifully. And anyway, I almost never don’t like Laura Lippman‘s writing.

We here in the Free State get an extra kick out of Lippman’s novels, since  they almost always contain some local lore. Sunburn features several trips to ‘Bawlamer,’ specifically referencing Northern Parkway, a route I’ve traveled on a number of occasions. It’s a sort of partial inner beltway; one wishes more cities had such a route. (Baltimore also has an outer beltway, which is becoming increasingly congested despite relentless efforts to widen it.)

I think Sunburn would be an excellent selection for discussion groups, especially those in this region. As with all Laura Lippman’s novels, it grabs you from the start, it’s witty, and it moves along at a good clip. One other point: I’m not sure  how I feel about the ending, and I’d welcome the chance to talk to other readers about it.


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