Picks and Pans Review: An Accidental Detective

updated 03/23/2009 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 03/23/2009 AT 01:00 AM EDT

LIFE SENTENCES
by Laura Lippman |

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CRITIC'S CHOICE

REVIEWED BY SUE CORBETT

NOVEL
This stand-alone novel from the author of the popular Tess Monaghan mysteries succeeds brilliantly on several levels—as an inside look at book publishing, as an exploration of the fallibility of memory and as an absorbing mystery. Protagonist Cassandra Fallows is an author who bared all in two memoirs, one about her philandering father, one about her own sexual history. But after bombing with book three, a novel, she's latched onto an intriguing tidbit in hopes of turning it into more nonfiction gold: a childhood acquaintance who spent seven years in prison for refusing to disclose the whereabouts of her infant son. Did she murder him? Is she taking the rap for a boyfriend? Why was no body ever found? Writing the story, though, requires that Cassandra reconnect with a quartet of black friends she lost touch with after high school, all of whom are unimpressed by "this neurotic white woman who can't shut up about herself." Lippman is in total command of her material, weaving strands about race, family myths and self-deception into a mystery so taut the reader is nearly afraid to keep going—and simultaneously powerless to stop.

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