(William Morrow, 351 pages, $26.99)
Reviewed by Carolyn Lane
Laura Lippman is no stranger to accolades, but her new novel, After I’m Gone, should garner quite a few more. Several of her books feature alternating time and character narrative—I’ll call it “diffraction”—and even though I’m generally not a great fan of this stylization, here it works wonderfully to carry readers in suspense to the very last page.
The storyline is structured around a fifties’ song, with episodes following the lyrics Hold Me, Kiss Me, Thrill Me, through to the final Never Let Me Go.
In the first episode, Hold Me, are a man and a woman, obviously close, who are leaving for a rendezvous some decades ago—purpose unknown. What we do find out is that they have very different expectations for this meeting. What we don’t know is how that meeting will color their future or that of their close friends and family.
Subsequent episodes—and time periods and characters—reveal a budding romance, a happy but somewhat veiled life on the part of the husband, and a crisis that threatens their happiness. Years later, a retired detective becomes interested in a cold-case murder that happened around the same time as the family crisis, and in solving that case, it is he who assembles all the facets of the story into a crystalline image that captures all: hopes, dreams, hard work, laziness, errors of judgment, envy, revenge, the fullness of life, and growing old.
After I’m Gone is really a superb book, but describing it without giving away the amazing plot is difficult. Lippman’s eye for the extraordinary to be found in the mundane is key here, and her storytelling talents have been honed to razor sharp. And a particular advantage to this novel is that, even if you can’t resist peeking ahead or turning to the last chapter, you’ll have to enjoy every page to understand the whole.