Title: Life Sentences
Author: Laura Lippman
Release Date: March 10, 2009
Publisher: William Morrow
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 3 out of 5
Writer Cassandra Fallows has returned to her hometown of Baltimore with the seeds of an idea for a new book. Callie Jenkins, a girl she grew up with, was accused of murdering her son seven years ago. The only problem was that Callie’s son had disappeared, and no amount of cajoling would bring Callie to speak. Unsure if he was even alive or dead, the jury sentenced Callie to seven years in prison. Now, Callie has been released and Cassandra is determined to learn what happened to Callie’s infant son.
I absolutely love Laura Lippman’s novels - I adored What the Dead Know and Every Secret Thing. Her 2010 standalone release I’d Know You Anywhere made my Best of 2010 list, and I’ve enjoyed the first couple of books in her Tess Monaghan series, Baltimore Blues and Charm City. Therefore, it was really a no brainer when it came to reading Life Sentences, another standalone book. However, I was surprised to find that I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I’d been expecting I would.
I’ll start with the good: the premise is really fascinating. As Lippman details in her author’s note at the end of the book, Callie Jenkins’ case is based on a real life mystery, one that remains unsolved to this day. That alone made me want to read this book. Additionally, the depiction of race relations in 1970s Baltimore is really interesting. Cassandra’s first two books were memoirs, and she wrote about herself (Caucasian) and her three African American friends. It’s interesting to see how they interpreted events and remember things differently due to the racial tensions that existed at the time. The ethics of being a memoirist are also discussed in the novel, and I think it brings up interesting questions.
Unfortunately, there is also the bad: this book didn’t hold my interest. More than once I found myself wanting to put it down and go do something else, and had to force myself to keep reading. There are too many characters, and the book jumps narrators way too often. As a result, the book seems foggy and convoluted. The main character, Cassandra, isn’t very likeable and is difficult to sympathize with at times, though she did grow on me as the novel progressed. Finally, the solution to the mystery isn’t as jaw-dropping as I’ve come to expect from Laura Lippman’s novels.
And that’s where the root of my problem may lie: expectations. I am very familiar with Lippman’s work, so I expect her books to blow me away. This one didn’t, and I have a feeling I’m being harder on it than I normally would because of that fact. I can’t recommend this book if you want an introduction to Lippman’s work, just because her other books are so much more phenomenal than this, and if you’re a fan of her standalones, you’ll likely be disappointed. I’m sad I didn’t love this book because I really wanted to, but I’m still looking very forward to whatever Lippman does next.