On the shelf: ‘What the Dead Know’ by Laura Lippman

By Megan Andres, Grand Rapids Public Library, Seymour Branch


To be honest, I do not think I had heard of Laura Lippman’s work before What the Dead Know. As is the case with most readers, I looked at that inside cover summary in the hopes of finding a new and exciting book to read. From the very first page it becomes clear why Lippman has won so many writing awards for her other titles.


The story of the Bethany girls has captivated people for nearly thirty years. Two young girls, Sunny and Heather, taking a bus to the mall to see a movie on a Saturday afternoon turns into a nightmare when both girls vanish. Neighbors, colleagues, and family of the girls’ parents all suffer as the investigation reveals cracks in the family’s perfect facade.  Where was their mother that Saturday? Continuing her affair with her boss. Where was their father? Drinking in a bar after finding out about the affair from the man’s own wife.


Intermixed into the story is a woman who causes an accident with a SUV. She drives off and finally pulls over only to try walking to some unknown destination. When the police locate her, it is her words that form the true mystery –“I am one of the Bethany girls.” Over the course of several days the young woman finally admits to being Heather Bethany. Investigators are uncertain. Her own mother is terrified to believe it.


Heather’s tale of abuse and murder could chill anyone’s heart. But facts still seem to be missing. Heather says Sunny was murdered that same day, but her body was never found.  Heather details the man who kidnapped them: a cop. Things continue to add up but not equal out. Finally, the girls’ mother returns from Mexico. The plan is for the police to walk Heather by her to see if mothers can really know their children. With this final piece, it all falls into place in a way no one expected.


The book is fictional though based on a real abduction, but Lippman’s allusions to famous abduction/murder cases help to build the reality of life after Sunny and Heather vanish. She holds back nothing — the father who cannot bear to give up, and the mother who cannot stand to hope. This story gives the reader a new take on those stories on the news. A realization that what we hear is not the end no matter what the police find. Lippman has another award contender in What the Dead Know.



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