The Most Dangerous Thing by Laura Lippman (Review #2)

The Most Dangerous Thing Reviewed by Caryn St. Clair

Lippman really has two distinct audiences for her writing. There are the fans of her Tess Monaghan mystery series, and then the fans of her various works of fiction which take on the human psyche on various levels. Certainly there are people who read both, but most came to know Lippman from one side or the other. The Most Dangerous Thing comes as close as any to bridging the two sides.

On one side The Most Dangerous Thing is a coming of age book. On the other hand, there is every bit as much of a mystery in this as any of Lippman’s Tess Monaghan books. Five children, girls Gwen and Mickey, plus the three Halloran brothers Sean, Tim and (Go-Go) Gordon, become fast friends and spend great amounts of time roaming the woods near their homes virtually unsupervised. In their wanderings, they discover an old cabin, long ago abandoned by the owner but now used by a mysterious black man who they promptly nickname “Chicken George.” Any reader of this sort of books knows that there is going to be something that happens in that woods involving either the cabin or the man that will end up being a secret shared into adulthood. Indeed that is just what happens. The children go on with their lives, grow up and more or less forget about the incident, until Gwen returns to the town to care for her father who is convalescing from a fall. She runs into Sean who tells her Go-Go committed suicide. Gordon’s death stirs up memories of the past and eventually, readers are let in on the “secret.”

This is where mystery/suspense readers may want to grab a hold of this book and shake it. They will want to know the answer to the puzzle-what the big secret is and be quite aggravated with the lack of clues along the way. But this is a psychological study of the five young people and the effects of a buried past on their lives as much as a secret to be revealed, so patience is necessary. If you read the book as a coming of age story, then the pacing may well be to your liking. Readers are given a leisurely look at the characters’ lives since childhood and are privy to their inner thoughts along the way. If you are reading this book as a suspense novel because you like Lippman’s mystery series, you are probably going to be unhappy that “the big reveal” is so long in coming. Either way I suspect, you will be a bit let down a bit by what the secret is. But that’s okay. The book is such a fantastic read with well drawn characters that the ending becomes just that, the end.

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