Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The remembered victim

It was the crime that people remembered, not the victim.
Laura Lippman, I'd Know You Anywhere

When I started reading Laura Lippman's 2010 novel I'd Know You Anywhere, I wondered how she was going to make a story -- and knowing Lippman, a riveting story -- when the crimes in question (the abduction and murder of a series of teenage girls) happened years before and the killer sits on death row awaiting his execution. I needn't have worried, for the author pulls it off beautifully, and without relying too heavily on flashbacks.

The key to Lippman's story is that one of Walter Bowman's victims survived. Elizabeth Lerner, now Eliza Benedict, is married and has two children of her own, including a troubled daughter about the same age as she was when she stumbled upon Walter burying one of his victims. He grabbed her and took her with him on his travels. Trying to survive, she cooperated in every way, even to the point of not attempting to escape when she had the chance and aiding in the abduction of another girl, Holly Tackett. Her testimony helped put Walter on death row, where he has been for the past 20 years. But now he has found her again and hopes he can manipulate her as did years before, this time to save his life.

Eliza, who had thought her role in Walter Bowman's murder spree had long been forgotten, finds herself not just pressured by Walter but also caught between two women with opposing agendas. Trudy Tackett, Holly's mother, still blames Eliza for living when her own daughter died, and she wants to make sure Eliza does nothing to keep Walter from his appointment with death. Meanwhile Barbara, a woman who devotes herself to helping violent convicts, pushes Eliza to go along with Walter's scheme. In an author's note at the end of the novel, Lippman writes, "I did my best to make sure that every point of the (death penalty) triangle -- for, against, confused -- was represented by a character who is recognizably human." That she does very well, and all three women are flesh-and-blood characters you can understand, whether you agree with them or not.

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