Dead Ened

Best-selling mystery writer's new book taps into every parent's worst nightmare.

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In Laura Lippman’s new novel, What the Dead Know, two young sisters head to a mall . . . and never return. Thirty years later, a woman flees a hit-and-run. She’s tracked down and claims to be one of the missing girls. “Two years ago, I drove past a shopping plaza and remembered that two girls disappeared from there in 1975,” says Lippman, a former reporter for the Baltimore Sun. “It was the first crime that felt near to me. It happened 15 miles from where I went to high school. There was never any resolution. The bodies were never found.”

Over the past decade, Lippman’s snagged pretty much every crime-writing award that’s handed out: the Edgar, the Shamus, the Agatha, etc. Her best-selling Tess Monaghan series (about a feisty reporter-turned-sleuth) reels in fans. But it’s the one-shot works -- like What the Dead Know -- where her most intriguing concepts surface. “It’s a novel about an ordinary family with ordinary problems that gets swept up in something so large that it swamps all the other stuff that’s going on,” she says. What the Dead Know is a pretty harrowing read. The two girls -- one is 11, the other 15 -- are shopping for the first time without parental supervision. When their father returns to pick them up, they aren’t there. The family never gives up hope over the years, even though alleged sightings and ransom demands lead nowhere. “I wanted to construct a novel that would be thwarted by science,” says Lippman. “People are so fascinated by the technical advances in forensic science, but we sometimes lose sight of the fact that there are still things that can’t be done with it.” The novel weaves several different points of view as it zigzags across 30 years. It’s a marvelous technique -- but one that almost didn’t happen, says Lippman. “When I started the novel, I didn’t know I was going to spend so much time in the past,” she says. It’s also a fitting setup to What the Dead Know’s ultimate themes of hope, grief, and loss. “Life is random,” says Lippman. “Things can happen. I want people to have empathy, not just sympathy, for victims.”
Sun., April 22, 3 p.m.

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