DON’T LOOK BACK by Laura Lippman
Avon Books – March, 2010, £6.99 978147560940
Laura Lippman impressed us here at Crime Scene Scotland when we stumbled upon THE POWER OF THREE, Lippman’s powerful novel set around a high school shooting. Since then, we have immersed ourselves in Lippman’s writing; an often gut-wrenching blend of crime fiction, literary stylings and pop fiction that deals with complex emotional issues amidst twisting and gripping plots. While she may be better known her Tess Monahan series, we have always had a weakness for her standalone novels, and so were excited when DON’T LOOK BACK* came through our mailbox.
Don’t Look Back tells two parallel narratives, starting in 1985 when Walter Bowman starts to uncover a darker side to himself, working his way to becoming a notorious serial killer. As we follow Walter’s transformation, the second narrative begins in the modern world as Eliza Benedict – the girl who escaped Bowman’s clutches and ultimately led to his capture – finds herself receiving letters from the man, who is finally facing the death sentence.
Lippman’s narrative is all about memory and recollection. As we follow both narratives, we discover the ways in which people remember events and places and how these can sometimes distort the reality and emotions connected to people. Eliza appears at first to be a very passive character, and as the narrative progresses we suddenly realise how different her appearance is from her internal personality, how there are forces driving her that even she may not be aware of.
The narrative itself is intriguing and provides that perfect mix between literary and thriller. You think you know what to expect, but Lippman pulls the rug out from under you creating a story that feels much more personal than one might expect. As it rolls towards its denoument, you find yourself emotionally conflicted and uncertain as to the truth of any given situation. By letting the modern and 1985 narratives run in tandem, Lippman illuminates the truth in patches until you suddenly realise that what you were looking at was not perhaps what you thought it was.
It should also be noted the Walter Bowman is one of the most believable serial killers to have been written about in modern fiction. Less a bogeyman and more a deeply troubled human being, his humanity is what makes him so terrifying. At his heart, he is a man driven by basic human needs who has gone off track somewhere and watching as he descends into a terrible place, convinced of his own motives, is a deeply chilling experience.
Don’t Look Back is an incredible, literary crime novel, one that should hopefully propel Lippman’s profile here in the UK. If you haven’t discovered Lippman yet, we urge you to pick up this book when its released and discover one of the most intelligent and skilled writers working in the crime genre today.
Russel D McLean for crimescenescotland, 28/01/11
*published in the US as I’D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE