“What the Dead Know” by Laura Lippman

Available on Amazon

Laura Lippman is skilled at creating stories that have more twists and turns that a country road. What the Dead Know is a perfect example of her talent. From the first page she sets up the mystery, presenting the main character caught up in a situation she did not foresee and is ill prepared for. With flashbacks, different characters perspectives, and a puzzle thirty years old the story carried me along, irresistibly drawn into the intrigue.

After a car accident on an icy road a young woman is taken to a local hospital. With no identification she is pressed by the authorities to reveal who she is. The vehicle she is driving is registered to Penelope Jackson. But is that her identity? She confesses to the young police officer she is “one of the Bethany girls”, sisters who went missing before the officer was even born. She then reveals her knowledge of a murder that occurred years earlier.  Police and hospital workers suspect she is a “faker”, lying to cover up something. Refusing to give any information she is logged as “Jane Doe”. This sets the tone for a story that sends investigators following leads that often end in dead ends because witnesses have died.

Meanwhile with the assistance of a hospital social worker, Kay Sullivan, she acquires a lawyer, Gloria Bustamante. When questioned again about her identity she invokes the name of the Bethany sisters refusing any more details until she meets with her lawyer. Joined by Baltimore County Homicide detective Kevin Infante the investigation begins, questions fly, and the search for answers is on.

This is a gripping tale that pulled me in and dragged me along trying to solve the mystery. When the truth is finally revealed I almost leaped out of my chair. I never saw it coming!

The characters are richly described and the transitions between them are well handled. Descriptions of different locations and time periods are spot on and carried me along comfortably.

This is easily my favorite book by Lippman. In fact this may top my list of mystery thrillers; it is so effective in building suspense and resolving the story neatly.


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?

Laura Lippman on Amazon

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