Lippman is a consistent and entertaining storyteller, in touch with contemporary life and its unique demands, especially in personal relationships, ethics, morality and the challenges of maintaining integrity and personal honor. As a newly-elected stateís attorney in Howard County, Maryland, protagonist Luisa ďLuĒ Brandt
follows a long line of family dedication to public service. In fact, her recent success in the local election is inspired by lifetime ties with a community with short-time ties to its geographic location.
Her first case in the new position is a homicide, the murder of a woman in her home by a homeless man. Itís not a headline-grabbing case, but
quiet, rural Howard County doesnít have many homicides compared to the rest of the country. Unexpectedly, this new case brings up old memories for Brandt: the night in 1980 her older brother, AJ, saved his best friendís life at the forfeit of anotherís. That incident has rested easily in Luís mind for years, the death the night of AJís high school graduation and her familyís reaction--two close siblings and a widowed father--simply a fact long-forgotten. Why now the discomfort and resurgence of memory, the connections and secrets Lu never questioned all those years ago? Thereís something she missed, selectively reframed until the recent homicide sparks unexpected questions, compelling curiosity and fears of what may be the unraveling of long-held beliefs.
As a protagonist in a position of authority, a woman who has always valued the law, Brandt seems a confident, mature career woman, albeit often beset with the self-doubts of a younger one. Alone since the shocking death of her husband in his late
thirties, Lu is raising twins Justin and Penelope with the help of her elderly father, Boston left behind for the more familiar landscape of a comfortable childhood and the established tradition of respect for the law. This current emotional dichotomy is made more jarring by the juxtaposition of past and present, Lu addressing the current investigational challenges and the alternating chapters that better define the past. (The fact that the ďPastĒ chapters are done in a nearly illegible sans-serif typeface doesnít help the transitions--it is beyond tedious to wade through what is clearly vital information while enduring eyestrain.)
Eventually, past and present merge, Lu forced to examine the circumstances of McNallyís murder by Rudy Drysdale through an altered perspective.
The events of 1980 loom large, a Pandoraís box of unanswered questions and buried secrets. The epiphany for Brandt is life-changing, a future narrowed by truth, the weight of denial lifted as the protagonist moves forward. Although everything Brandt believes--even her respect for the law that has affected the direction of her adult life--is threatened, this character never really comes alive.
Her interior battles and complexities are uninteresting, a cardboard figure acting out her role by rote. Wealthy after her husbandís unfortunate death, the fact that Lu is passionate about her profession rings hollow--itís easy to be single-minded when your efforts arenít hampered by the economic realities faced by others. Unfortunately, it feels like Lippman has phoned this one in, a tale of drama, death, and forced reality in a make-believe place that bears few familiar contours in todayís world.