Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Book Review: I'd Know You Anywhere
Several years ago, my cyber friend and fellow blogger, Cardiogirl, expressed a desire to find a new (to her) mystery author to read. She was looking for an author who had written more than just one book and she expressed an interest in crime fiction. Not long after that, I stumbled upon a novel in our library's Christmas shop by Laura Lippman. I don't remember the title, but it looked so interesting that I purchased it and sent it on to Cardiogirl. I explained to her that I couldn't vouch for my opinion about the author, since I had never read anything by Laura Lippman, but if it sounded intriguing to me, perhaps it would also be intriguing to her.
Thus, after reading the endorsements for I'd Know You Anywhere, I decided to give a Lippman book a try. This novel is about Eliza Benedict, a woman who has shortened her name in an attempt to distance herself from a frightening episode in the past when she was kidnapped and held hostage by a serial killer. After seeing her photo in a magazine, the killer, Walter Bowman, contacts Eliza with a desire to express his remorse.
An endorsement on the inside cover proclaims the novel to be "a powerful and utterly riveting tale that skillfully moves between past and present to explore the lasting effects of crime on a victim's life."
I anticipated the process of getting inside the head of a victim of crime. However, I cannot say that I enjoyed this book. The writing itself was very well done. The characters were drawn with depth. The plot did keep me reading. But the more I read, the more angry and irritated I felt.
Another blogger friend of mine, Lucy, once wrote that she doesn't like to read fiction when she feels that the author has "an agenda." This is entirely how I feel about this book. There was an agenda here and it got in the way of the story for me.
The author alienated me on two counts within two pages. Walter (the kidnapper/murderer of teen girls) is in Sussex (death row) and is thinking about the deaths of his parents from lung cancer and diabetes. He states:
"The men on Sussex had nothing on God when it came to killing people in painful, prolonged ways. The hardest case here hadn't taken more than a few hours to kill anyone. God took months, years."
I cannot help but think this view comes through from the author and not just a perspective of the criminal she is painting.
Then, in thinking of his victim, now a stay-at-home mother:
"He had no doubt that Elizabeth was a good mother. But he was still disappointed that this was all Elizabeth's life had amounted to, that this was what she had chosen to do with the great gift he had conferred on her."
Between the assault on Almighty God (implying that man doesn't hold a candle to God when it comes to causing suffering) and the assault on the valuable role of a mother, I was seething.
From that point on, things deteriorated further as it became clear that this was a novel with an agenda to denounce capital punishment. Walter isn't looking to merely apologize for wrongs he has committed. He is looking to escape the penalty of his actions. I want a good story, not a noble agenda.
Two further passages also rankled:
Barbara (Walter's support person) addresses Elizabeth (the only living victim):
"A man's going to die because of your testimony. But he's not the same man who committed the crimes .... How do you sleep at night? How can you live with yourself?..."
She goes on to declare that if Elizabeth "let Walter die ... then she was a killer, more cold-blooded than any death row inmate." (Somehow both victims and God are more responsible than an individual who chose to violate societal and religious standards.)
Later, an adult explains to a child that "religion and magic are pretty much the same thing." That about sums up the perspective this was written from.
So, although this book was riveting, although I read clear through to the end, I cannot bring myself to recommend it. There are certainly books I have enjoyed despite being written from a different political and religious perspective than my own, but this was not one of them. Story must trump agenda and, for me, this book didn't deliver.