Lippman, Laura. Every Secret Thing.

NY: HarperCollins, 2003.

Six years ago, when sort-of best friends Alice and Ronnie were eleven years old and were sent home from a birthday party in disgrace, they kidnapped an infant from someone’s front yard on the spur of the moment. The baby died and the girls went to juvenile prison until they were legal adults.

Now they’re back and — no surprise — they’re much different people now. That’s the set-up and everything else in this tensely absorbing story builds from that premise as another infant disappears from a Baltimore mall. Are one or both of the girls involved?

Lippman is very, very good at exploring the personalities of characters in extremely stressful situations, at letting them slowly reveal themselves to the reader in ways that turn the narration on its head, often several times, so that you really can’t predict where the story is going. (Just like real life in that respect.) There’s the mother of the victim, whose grandfather is a beloved judge and who is determined to get revenge for her daughter’s death by tying Alice and Ronnie to this new crime, whether they did it or not. And there’s Alice’s rather puzzling mother, who insisted her own daughter be held equally accountable for the first crime, because that was only fair. There’s the public defender who feels she failed the girls in the original plea-bargaining and who is determined to do better this time. And, of course, there’s the relationship between the two girls themselves, both then and now, even though they haven’t seen each other in six years. And will justice be served? Not much, really.

The author started out with a well-received private detective series set (like all her books) in Baltimore, but after a few years she branched out into some independent novels, of which I have now read three and greatly enjoyed them all. Actually, while the latter books each center on a different group of main characters, they’re all tied together by the recurring crew of Baltimore County homicide cops from whose perspective we see much of the action. I’m a little surprised that Hollywood doesn’t seem to have caught up to Lippman yet.

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