Book: What the Dead Know

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What the Dead Know: A Novel

Author: Laura Lippman
Publisher: William Morrow & Company

Thirty years ago two sisters disappeared from a shopping mall. Their bodies were never found and those familiar with the case have always been tortured by these questions: How do you kidnap two girls? Who’or what’could have lured the two sisters away from a busy mall on a Saturday afternoon without leaving behind a single clue or witness?

Now a clearly disoriented woman involved in a rush-hour hit-and-run claims to be the younger of the long-gone Bethany sisters. But her involuntary admission and subsequent attempt to stonewall investigators only deepens the mystery. Where has she been, why has she waited so long to come forward? Could her abductor truly be a beloved Baltimore cop? There isn’t a shred of evidence to support her story, and every lead she gives the police seems to be another dead-end’a dying, incoherent man, a razed house, a missing grave, and a family that disintegrated long ago, torn apart not only by the crime but by the fissures the tragedy revealed in what appeared to be the perfect household.

In a story that moves back and forth across the decades, there is only one person who dares to be skeptical of a woman who wants to claim the identity of one Bethany sister without revealing the fate of the other. Will he be able to discover the truth?


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This stand-alone thriller from Laura Lippman (To the Power of Three, Every Secret Thing, et al.) revolves around the mysterious disappearance of two young sisters in a Baltimore County shopping mall on Easter weekend in 1975. Still unsolved after more than three decades, the cold case suddenly becomes red hot when a middle-aged woman involved in a car accident informs police that she is Sunny Bethany, one of the sisters who went missing 30 years earlier. But her disjointed story, while factually accurate, raises concerns with Baltimore County cop Kevin Infante, who intuitively knows something isn’t quite right.

The investigation is complicated further by the fact that many key players are either dead or suffering from degenerative illnesses. The mysterious woman’s horrific account—an abduction involving a police officer, years of sexual abuse, and the murder of her little sister, Heather—sounds plausible enough, but when the elderly mother of the missing girls, now living in Mexico, is asked to meet with her alleged daughter, a terrible truth is finally revealed…

Reminiscent of 2005’s To the Power of Three, this mystery/thriller features young, outwardly uncorrupted, and surprisingly savvy female protagonists—and a bombshell of a conclusion that, interestingly enough, ties in with the peripheral theme of the spiritual discipline of the Fivefold Path: liberation through self-knowledge. Sharing similarities with an actual unsolved case that involved the disappearance of two Baltimore-area sisters in 1975, What the Dead Know is vintage Lippman—emotionally charged, powerfully poignant, and hauntingly sublime. Highly recommended. Paul Goat Allen

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